Chapter Eight. Anticipating a Marriage

Contrary to Darcy’s tease about the women spending hours dedicated to wedding plans, there really were few left to finalize. Kitty had arranged everything with a straightforward simplicity that drove Mrs. Bennet into nervous fits. Mrs. Bennet had apparently decided that as the final Bennet daughter to be wed, it needed to be an affair of pomp and renown. The morning and early afternoon visitation as the three waited for their assorted guests to arrive would follow a typical pattern.

“I am certain Mr. Hennings could provide a few more flower arrangements in short order,” Mrs. Bennet declared, Lizzy rolling her eyes for the umpteenth time while Kitty calmly waited for her mother to finish the thought before rebutting it. “This is a meager amount! Only four around the altar and the one you will be carrying? Not nearly sufficient!”

“Mr. Hennings has provided what I asked for, Mama. There is no need to burden him further.” Kitty did not look up from her embroidery hoop.

A few minutes later: “I spoke with Mr. Janssen yesterday, Kitty. He said he would be delighted to bake the cake for you.”

“I plan to cook it myself, Mama, as you know since you helped me purchase the ingredients three days ago. The fruit is drying already and the marzipan is prepared. I pray you did not impose upon Mr. Janssen for an item we do not require?”

“No, no! It was merely a suggestion.”

Then again, following a heavy sigh: “I do wish you had prevailed for a special license. His family connections are illustrious enough to afford it and you certainly had the time.”

“That is not the point. We had no need to apply for such a thing.”

“Of course, it should have been you, Lizzy, who had done so,” Mrs. Bennet interrupted, having not listened to Kitty’s response, her eyes dreamy as she continued. “It would have been marvelous to see Lady Lucas’s face when one of my daughters was married after noon with leave by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself!” Her eyes grew mournful as she turned to her younger daughter. “Really, Kitty, if you could only think of your poor mama you would have granted me this one wish.”

“Mama, please!” Lizzy scolded. “The wedding will be perfect as it is. It is Kitty’s happiness that counts the most.”

“Of course! Yes, yes, you are correct, Lizzy. I only want what is best for my dear girl! Are you sure the kitchen staff here is adequately prepared for the occasion? Perhaps we should scrutinize the menu again, add something more. It is such short notice, but it must be stupendous!”

“It is only breakfast. They will handle it superbly.”

“But what about the dinner that evening? Two meals in one day of such magnitude?”

“The bride and groom will be gone and it will just be family, Mama. No need for ostentation. The Netherfield staff can manage it, I assure you.”

And on it went until mid-afternoon and the relieving disruption by the footman announcing the arrival of the Bingleys. Darcy was sent for from his solitude in the library, entering the foyer as the group massed for hugs and greetings.

“Bingley!”

“Darcy old man. How are you?”

“Well, quite well indeed. Mrs. Bingley.” He bowed toward Jane, who smiled and curtseyed.

“William, I expected to see Alexander trailing behind. Ethan has spoken of nothing else nearly the entire journey.”

“I forced him to nap, much to his chagrin, so it is fortunate that Ethan is clearly in the same state.” He inclined his head toward the Bingleys’ nanny, whose arms were laden by the sleeping form of the Bingleys’ young son. “Mrs. Geer, a room has been prepared for you and Master Bingley. Arguston will escort you there, if you approve, Jane?”

“Please. He was a terror, I am embarrassed to admit, refusing to sleep or sit still until we began pulling into the drive whereupon he suddenly collapsed in exhaustion.”

George laughed. “I am convinced your dear son holds not a candle to the youngest Darcy in terms of a wicked temper.”

“I wish I could argue the point, but I am afraid it is the truth.” Darcy grinned, clasping his wife’s hand in the crook of his arm as they filed into the parlor.

It was a bedlam of voices and bodies as they refreshed the new arrivals with tea and spirits, exchanging pleasantries with Kitty gladly answering the identical questions asked of her by Lizzy over the past two days. Jane was paler than typical, but otherwise outwardly recovered from the horrendous ordeal of miscarrying her second baby. Her countenance was cheery as Kitty gushed about the wedding to come.

Lizzy leapt for joy to see Kitty reverting to her giddy self. The past year and a half had been filled with trials and heartache, her present happiness often seemingly not in the fates with her newfound strange reserve a remnant of too many disappointments. Additionally, Lizzy prayed the presence of family and a blissful event would wash the residuals of grief from Jane’s heart—at least as much as was possible after a tragedy of that magnitude.

The cacophony had dimmed only slightly when a fresh outpouring erupted upon the surprise arrival of Mr. Bennet with Joshua and Mary Daniels in his wake. They had halted at Longbourn first, Mary physically evicting her father from his study to accompany them to Netherfield. Hugs, kisses, formal bows from the menfolk, and two more slumbering children were relocated to waiting chambers while fresh tea and edibles were brought in.

Kitty once again embarked on a question and answer session, not tiring in the endeavor. Sitting as the guest of honor on the sofa amid a gaggle of Bennet females, she waxed on as only a bride-to-be can do.

Mr. Daniels greeted his brother-in-law with staid formality, never considering Mr. Darcy more than a client. A tied packet of documents was delivered with appropriate rectitude, Darcy not even cracking a smile although his eyes glittered humorously. George casually leaned against the liquor cabinet, whiskey decanter in one hand and brandy in the other as he served drinks to the gentlemen gathered around.

“May as well get started on the celebrating,” he said jauntily. “Bingley, Daniels, drink up. Get a jump on the other gents at the pub!”

“The pub?” Mr. Daniels asked, taking the whiskey tumbler automatically as it was thrust into his hand.

Mr. Bennet answered, “The men of Meryton are gathering for an impromptu dinner and games. News of our guests has spread. Mr. Bingley especially has many friends in the neighborhood.”

Mr. Daniels paled. “I am not certain… that is I should stay with Mrs. Daniels and the girls.”

“Nonsense!” George airily waved the brandy toward the clutch of jabbering females. “All these women talking weddings and mothering? Lord, be merciful! We need to be surrounded by manly sweat, drunken cursing, and discourses on hunting and politics to remind us we are of the stronger sex for at least one night. Pity Colonel Fitzwilliam is not here to test my skill at darts.”

“Perhaps it is for the best, Dr. Darcy,” Mr. Bennet offered with a smile. “Humiliation at games of skill twice in a row may not be healthy for your ego.”

“My ego is towering enough to handle it, I assure you. Besides, the chessboard shall not sit idle for long, Mr. Bennet. Be wary. ‘Pride cometh before the fall,’ as the Good Book says.”

“Indeed,” Darcy said. “But does it not also ask, ‘Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?’”

George laughed heartily, pouring more whiskey into Darcy’s untouched glass by way of answer.

“Speaking of Colonel Fitzwilliam, have you heard from him, Darcy?” Bingley asked.

“Not for a couple of weeks,” Darcy answered, frowning into his glass.

“I still am in a state of shock that Colonel Fitzwilliam is now a married man,” Bingley said. “I do not know him as well as you, Darcy, but I have to say I thought bachelorhood had a firm grip upon him. The abruptness, his choice of wife, the whole matter took me so by surprise.”

“And many others, myself included!” George declared, features falling into a pitiable expression of mourning. “I am the lone bachelor in the crowd now. It is a tragedy.”

They all laughed, Mr. Bennet speaking with false placation, “Rest easy, Doctor. I am sure we can find you a nice lady somewhere.”

George gasped dramatically, hand clutching the vivid green silk swathing his bony chest. “Perish the thought! You wound me, sir!”

“I have an aunt, sir, who may be perfect for you.”

They collectively gaped at Mr. Daniels, not due to his statement, but due to the obvious teasing tone it was uttered in. Stunned silence fell for a heartbeat, Mr. Daniels’s face beginning to color, but the lull was broken by Dr. Darcy’s loud bray and a reverberating clap to the young man’s shoulder.

“Well done, Daniels! Well done! Here, have some more whiskey.”

“Married he may be, but it will be pleasant to see him again. It has been months. I hope he arrives soon.”

Darcy nodded at Bingley’s words, the frown intact. “I am a little concerned, but trust that they will arrive in time. Georgiana will not fail to attend Miss Kitty’s nuptials, so my wife assures me.”

“Elizabeth is correct, William,” George agreed. “The wedding is several days away. We have yet to see the groom even! In fact, I am betting they will all arrive together. At least then we will have more men to counteract the feminine twittering. This brings me to back to tonight. How are you at darts, Mr. Daniels?”

Meanwhile the women sat in a semicircle with Kitty in the middle. Lizzy poured tea and distributed tiny plates of cakes and fruit while the bride-to-be described her dress in minute detail. “A rosy pink with green ribbons and sash. Green is Randall’s favorite color,” she finished in a soft voice, her rosy cheeks dimpling.

Jane and Lizzy shared a glance. Even the serious, unromantic Mary found herself smiling tenderly as memories of her own nuptials and those heady days of blooming love were recalled. Each young woman glanced unconsciously toward the knot of laughing men by the liquor cabinet, eyes seeking out their spouses.

“Well, I was of the opinion that a regal silver or gold would be more fashionable,” Mrs. Bennet interrupted the sentimental fancies. “Green is so… ordinary. Who picks green as a favorite color?” She shook her head, reaching for a scone.

“I think it sounds lovely,” Mary said, patting Kitty’s hand. “In the end it does not matter what color the dress as long as the choice of husband is a wise one.” She nodded sagely. “Kitty has made an excellent match.”

“Indeed she has. Do not be distressed, Mama. Consider how wonderful it will be to have Kitty married! Then all your daughters will be safe and securely established elsewhere, and you can turn your attentions to other matters, having accomplished your primary task in life. Think what a joy that shall be!”

Mrs. Bennet’s face fell at Lizzy’s innocently uttered words. Jane nudged Lizzy’s knee, shaking her head ever so slightly with a stern look, but Lizzy merely shrugged.

Mary changed the subject. “Lizzy, I do hope Michael wakens soon. I cannot wait to see him. Does he still look more like you than Mr. Darcy?”

“His appearance is a melding of us both but mostly unique, I think. In temperament I fear he is me.”

“Strange how that happens,” Jane mused. “Alexander so incredibly resembles his father while Michael resembles neither. Ethan too is a melding of Charles and I, with some features that come from only God knows where.”

“Well, we know where he gets his red hair, to be sure!” Mrs. Bennet offered. “I never could figure such things as there seems to be no logic. Jane’s fair coloring has always been a mystery. Mr. Bennet was as dark haired as Mary before turning white, if you girls remember. I do not think there are any blondes in the family.”

“Deborah’s locks are sandy, although not as light as yours, Jane, but that could well be from my husband’s side of the family. Joshua’s mother is blonde.”

“And Claudia?” Jane asked. “Is her hair light? I could not tell with her bonnet on and did not wish to disturb her sleep.”

“Never disturb a sleeping baby!” Lizzy declared firmly.

“I daresay you would know that truth!” Jane teased.

“I am anxious to meet this tempestuous nephew of mine. You have me burning with curiosity. How does Mr. Darcy handle his personality?”

“William has enough experience dealing with me that it has been an easy transition,” Lizzy answered Mary with a tiny chuckle. “In fact he has far more patience than I, not that there is any shocking imparted truth in that statement. Patience is not a virtue I overwhelmingly possess whereas William is a walking example of the attribute. I have decided that God plans these matters carefully and with tremendous forethought, thankfully.”

“Yes, He does. To answer your question, Jane, Claudia is completely bald, I am afraid. She was born with a few wisps of light hair, but they fell out within a couple of weeks. Mrs. Daniels assures me that the same thing happened with all of her children and they now have lovely hair.”

“Ethan developed bald patches that were moderately unsightly. Caroline said he was piebald, which irritated Charles no end. Luckily his hair evened out and is now thick like his father’s. How are you feeling, Mary? Have you recovered completely?”

Jane spoke softly, treading too close to an area that elicited painful emotions, as her own recovery from the birth process was not balanced by the joy of holding an infant in her arms. Mary sympathized and squeezed her sister’s hand. “I am well, Jane, thank you. Claudia’s birth was easy. Now if I could lose some of this extra weight, I would be right as rain.”

“A bit of flesh on the bones after becoming a mother is proper,” Mrs. Bennet asserted. “A maternal appearance is expected! Men prefer their women rounded, I daresay. Why, Lizzy and Jane stay so thin it is a wonder Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley remain romantically interested at all.”

“Mama!” Jane blushed scarlet, eyes inadvertently darting to her husband.

Lizzy, however, after a furtive gaze toward her handsome spouse, retorted, “I thought learning ways to divert our husband’s romantic interests was one of your chief lessons, Mama. I seem to recall a wealth of wise education on the subject during our engagement, remember Jane? Not that any of it seems to be working, sadly.” She sighed dramatically. “You know how men can be, yes, Mama?”

Mrs. Bennet fluttered her handkerchief wildly, one hand grasping at the lace at her throat, “Oh, Lizzy! How you do try my nerves! Speaking of such things!” She stood abruptly, muttering as she retreated to the window.

“God may well strike you down, Elizabeth Darcy,” Jane whispered in a quavering voice. Mary too looked near to bursting into giggles. Lizzy just shrugged.

“Oh!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed loudly, the whole room glancing toward her. “A fine carriage approaches! And two men on horseback!”

Kitty gasped, rising and dashing to join her mother. One squeal erupted before she pivoted and flew from the room.

“See, I told you they would all arrive together,” George declared calmly. “Should have taken wagers on the matter.”

“Any profit gained would have been lost tonight as I see one of the mounted men is Colonel Fitzwilliam,” Darcy grinned at his uncle. “Sure you still want to try your hand at darts?”

“Perhaps marital felicity has softened him as it has others whom shall remain unnamed.”

“Are you insinuating to have defeated Mr. Darcy in billiards?” Mr. Bennet asked in true surprise.

“Ha! He wishes!”

“Not as yet,” George spoke optimistically despite Darcy’s declaration, “but I have gotten close. And I hear that Major General Artois is prodigiously skilled at billiards, so Darcy may be in for a humbling experience this evening.”

“I daresay anything is possible, but we shall see who is humbled. For now, the speculations must rest as my present concern is greeting my sister properly. Excuse me.”

Any additional comments on the subject were left unsaid by the entrance of the Continental travelers and Kitty’s fianc?. The latter was somewhat inhibited in extending suitable greetings due to a glowing Katherine Bennet apparently soldered to his left arm and side! The Major General was clearly not disturbed by his clinging fianc?e, everyone managing to bid him welcome and offer congratulations without deficiency.

With so many people clamoring to hug, extend cordial greetings, and report the past months events in one fell swoop, it was over an hour before Kitty and her betrothed were politely able to absent themselves for a stroll alone. The stroll, not surprisingly, quickly led to a secluded copse not too far from the house, whereupon Artois instantly drew Kitty in for an embrace and thorough kiss.

“I have missed you terribly,” she whispered, once able to use her mouth for speaking. “Two weeks apart is far too long. Every time you leave I fear never seeing you again!”

“And yet each time we part I always return. Do I not, my lovely Kitty? You must learn to have faith.”

“I have complete faith in you, truly I do, Randall. But…”

He halted her with another kiss, a soft one that soon left her lips to travel tenderly across her face while he murmured. “No doubts, kitten. I have waited patiently all my life for you. Fate wills us to be together, so what is there to fear?” He expected no answer, not that Kitty could formulate a negative emotion while her betrothed was kissing her.

The romantic part of Major General Artois’s nature would forever wish he could tell their children that he fell madly in love with their mother when they met in the darkened library during Colonel Fitzwilliam’s marriage to Lady Simone Fotherby. Alas, this would be an untruth.

The fact is that they spoke for a few more minutes, laughed over their circumstances, and then recognized that the risk of being caught alone was too great. So they discreetly exited the library and rejoined the assembled guests with renewed spirits. Kitty was introduced to Major General Artois’s father and two brothers, military men all, conversing politely until individual duties to family separated them. Aside from warm glances across the crowded room, Kitty and Randall would share no additional words that day. Before either could digest their impressions or the impact of the encounter, the day was over and they had gone their separate ways.

In the three weeks that followed, Major General Artois would think about Miss Bennet from time to time. He admitted that she had struck a chord within him, her wittiness and beauty intensely intriguing, and was honest when he told her that she was one of life’s glories. Meeting her had been a pleasure and he contemplated seeking her out, but decided that boldly appearing upon the doorstep of Darcy House was inappropriate. He felt no fervency over the encounter, not out of a negative response to her, but rather because of his natural inclination.

General Artois had almost given up on his son. The father of seven, widowed since the youngest was only five years, was in many respects like Mrs. Bennet in that he keenly felt the tremendous responsibility to ensure his offspring were safely married. Aside from the purely selfish desire to be surrounded by grandchildren, he wanted his sons and daughters to find the joy of steady companionship that he had experienced with the departed Mrs. Artois. To this end, he had succeeded with all but his third child, Randall.

Like all the five Artois boys, Randall had joined the military, displaying a subtle mind, sharp intellect, and reckless bravery. He rose fast in his chosen career and already outranked his two older brothers. General Artois was immeasurably proud but remained baffled by his son’s personality and outlook on life. Randall had endeavored to explain his feelings on the subject of life and marriage to his father on numerous occasions, but it was futile.

It was difficult for Randall to articulate because he did not comprehend his odd peace either. All he knew is that from a young age he had looked at life as something that largely passed by with minimal control on his part. Some would call him a fool, and maybe they were partially correct, but Randall preferred to see it as a peaceful reliance on something greater than him. He did not necessarily attribute it to God, although he was willing to accept that probability, but rather to a serene trust in destiny unfolding as it was meant to be.

Melancholy never afflicted him nor did great passion. Nothing riled him. This steady temperament contributed to his success as a soldier and officer. As for women, the same complacency ruled. He enjoyed women, in every way one can, but strong emotions did not exist. The perfect gentleman he was, treating them with kindness and respect, but easily able to walk away.

This detachment might have bothered him except that from his earliest forays into the world of women, he had known, simply known, that there was a woman out there just perfect for him. Thus he proceeded to amble through life, advancing in his career, amusing himself with friends and family and the occasional lover, all while confidently believing that she would fall into his lap when the proper time came.

Therefore, he was not remotely surprised when he rounded a corner onto Bond Street and nearly physically bumped into Miss Kitty Bennet. Again. She blushed becomingly but demonstrated the charm that he recalled from their wedding introduction. The conversation was brief, both remarking on the humor in both encounters involving nearly plowing into each other, and he seized the opportunity to ask if he could call upon her.

Within a month of frequent social interactions Randall was in love and had not the slightest doubt that Katherine Bennet was the woman fate or God or whatever had been preparing for him. His entire family adored her, his father so relieved to see his reluctant son clearly in the throes of love that he would have blessed the union no matter what her background!

Kitty, however, struggled with her emotions. The joy she felt with Randall Artois was intense, but the wounds from her previous romantic misfortune intruded upon her complete happiness. Her heart was thawing, but fear of further pain and disappointment made it difficult for her to trust fully.

Randall sensed her reserve and patiently persevered with no demands placed upon her fragile shoulders. He never pushed for an explanation, and when she finally revealed her previous heartbreak, Randall interpreted her disclosure as a positive development and his heart soared. Of course, he also wanted to dash off and beat Mr. Falke to a pulp for hurting his Kitty and then extend profuse thanks to the idiot for allowing such a treasure to slip through his fingers!

He did neither, naturally. Instead he trusted in the familiar serenity that ruled his life, knowing without the tiniest doubt that Miss Bennet would someday be his wife. He offered friendship only, kept the depths of his sentiments controlled within his heart, and allowed their relationship to advance in small increments toward the goal he knew was inevitable. When the summons came to leave for an extended deployment, he was not disturbed. He was granted permission by Mr. Bennet to write to Miss Bennet via her father while he was away, confident that fate was playing a part in their unusual courtship.

The restrained tears in Kitty’s eyes when they said their good-byes were pleasing. As he hoped, the separation with frequent letters filled with details of his daily life and humorous ramblings allowed her love to blossom. Her trust in his steadfastness grew as his correspondence never wavered, his voiced affections never diminished, his devotion to her never waned, and his respect never faltered.

When he returned to London after months away and trials within their separation, his reception was more than he could have dreamed of. The self-possession employed to prevent launching into his arms the second he walked through the door did not inhibit radiant joy from infusing her face. Major General Randall Artois had never been so happy. Less than a week later he proposed; his happiness lifted to rapture when she accepted. With the date set, Major General Artois anticipated the future with the same calm assurance that had been a comfort all his life.

Until, that is, he kissed her for the first time.

He had never doubted the passion lurking inside Kitty, even during the early months of their friendship when she was emotionally guarded. She was too alive, too bubbly not to have the potential for wantonness. That natural aspect of marriage was important to him and he considered Kitty’s animation as another positive sign.

Then, the day of their engagement, after the congratulations were exhausted, he finally found a moment to be alone with his betrothed. They were only in the small garden at Longbourn and his only intention was to steal a chaste kiss. And in the end that is all it was. A slow, regulated, closed mouth kiss with their hands clasped together between their bodies.

Randall was utterly shaken by the sensations provoked! He was far from an innocent, knowing the joy of a woman’s touch from a relatively young age, but never had it felt like this. And that was merely a kiss! In the six weeks since, she had grown bolder, while he grew increasingly rattled. His innate patience had deserted him to be replaced by vivid images of them together, teetering restraint, and an aching yearning to possess her. Every ounce of energy went into dampening his need and the physical arousal experienced nearly all the time—this from a Major General well into his thirties!

Staying away for two weeks had been a choice made to curb his passion and regain clarity. Yet before a handful of hours passed he realized the danger was worse than ever.

He leaned against the wide tree trunk with Kitty weakly sagging onto his chest, her breasts agreeably squeezed to the point of nearly spilling out of her d?colletage. Discipline learned over years of military service was harshly brought to bear to avoid plundering her body right there and then.

Suddenly the wisdom of whisking her away seemed poor indeed. She engaged his lips forcefully in a kiss more intense than he intended and grazed her fingernails over his scalp while running through his hair. He groaned and his knees weakened in response. Then, God help him, she pressed her entire body onto his with a wiggle he assumed was unconscious, although maybe not, targeting a certain part of his anatomy that definitely did not need to be encouraged at this point.

Fire radiated in a piercing arc from groin to every other part of his body, a fierce growl emitted as he deepened the kiss far beyond what her innocence deserved. He grasped onto her bottom, every sense of decency gone in blinding surges of desire, holding fast with the dim hope that pressure would alleviate the painful need.

He was wrong, of course. But before he could assimilate that fact, and before morality and gentlemanly behavior restored a modicum of lucidity, she started rocking her hips and releasing soft gasps into his mouth. Randall stiffened, hands stilling where they held her derriere, surprise startling him into coherency. In all his struggles it never occurred to him to consider that she might be feeling the same uncontrollable passions.

Bursting with delight, he shoved the final vestiges of gentlemanly concern away and decided if giving her this gift eased her ache for him, he would happily comply. He readjusted his hips, one hand still cupping her bottom to aid her unsure movements with subtle guidance while the other lifted one leg over his waist, and met her writhing with counter-pressure. So lost was he in observing the beauty of her impassioned face, listening to her pants and moans, and absorbing her shudders of release that his throbbing need was momentarily forgotten.

She sagged into his arms and he held her tight, hands caressing over her back as her trembling ebbed and breathing normalized. He whispered into her hair, “I love you, kitten. Always. You astound me with your innocent needs and trust. I am honored by your faith, my respect and love stronger each day.”

“That was… amazing,” she interrupted his assurances, lifting to stare boldly into his eyes. “Better than I imagined or have felt in my dreams of you. And I know this only scratches the surface of how it will be when we are completely together.”

Randall’s eyes widened with astonishment. “You… imagine us? Dream of us… together?”

“Does this shock you, Major General?”

Her satisfied smile and husky timbre sent fresh jolts of desire through his body, making speech difficult for several moments. Then he grinned lasciviously and pressed her into his swollen groin. “I am surprised I suppose, but pleasantly so. I want you badly, but did not anticipate the same in return. I am not sure what to say, Kitty, other than that I love you so much it hurts.”

“Your misery can end soon if you wish, Major General. I will be staying at Netherfield for a few nights at the behest of Georgiana. We have so much to catch up on. But once that is completed, I could, well”—her eyes lowered, a blush spreading over her cheeks—“it would be easy to slip into your room.”

“No,” he wheezed, swallowing the lump in his throat and willing his brain to lead rather than his overactive libido. “No, Kitty. God help me, I have never wanted anyone more than I want you right now, right this very second. The thought of you being in the same house with me, abed, in nightclothes…” He paused, looking away from her lustrous eyes and face still radiating with sexual heat. “Quite frankly I think it may well be more than I can bear. Have pity! Do not tempt me further. As it is I will need to drink myself into a stupor at the pub tonight to prevent banging your door down.”

“I like that vision. So manly and romantic.”

“Are you enjoying my suffering, Miss Bennet?”

“I am offering you relief from your suffering, Major General, as well as mine. This”—she pressed against his straining groin, Randall groaning and buckling slightly—“was not enough for me and it was no help to you at all.” Then she grew serious, the teasing lilt gone from her voice as she clasped his face in her hands. “I am tired of waiting. I want to be your wife now, Randall, not a week from now.”

“We have waited this long. What are a few more days?”

“An eternity.”

They stared at each other. Kitty’s eyes were firm and resolute. Randall’s were a bit wild. His will was wavering, badly, and her next words did not help his stability.

“You believe in fate. Fate brought us together. Fate kept us faithful to each other while separated. Fate has now brought me into your bedroom, so to speak. How can we ignore fate after she has been right all along?”

“I will lock my door,” he offered feebly.

But Kitty just smiled, lifting on tiptoes to kiss him slowly, after whispering, “No you won’t.”

And he knew she was correct.

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