Late that night, Geoffrey Collins and Elizabeth sat by the fire. Save the two of them, the household was perfectly still as the children were tucked in their beds, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins had also seen fit to retire.
The gentleman reached for Elizabeth’s hand and cradled it inside both of his. She was not entirely comfortable with this manner of affection although she rather suspected she ought to be. Regardless of the leanings of her heart, Elizabeth had committed herself to a lifetime with the man who sat next to her; not the one who was, by now, a new constant companion in her thoughts—the one whose eyes she had gazed into tenderly mere hours earlier and the one who was some miles away at Rosings Park and most likely suffering emotions akin to her own: Mr. Darcy.
Collins’s voice pierced Elizabeth’s musings. She heard him say, “Moments like these are paramount to me, my dear. Would that the two of us were already man and wife, so that I might demonstrate the strength of my desire for you in ways stronger than this.” He raised her hand to his lips.
Elizabeth wished to withdraw her hand, for this was the same hand Mr. Darcy had kissed earlier upon their parting on their morning walk. She could not. She would not, however, acknowledge her intended’s piercing gaze. Feeling the weight of his stare, she looked instead at the glowing cinders.
This is the life I have chosen for myself, she silently considered. At length, she faced her suitor and smiled, hoping it would be enough to appease him. There are worse fates than being admired by such a man, her thoughts beckoned. He will be a decent husband and a good father for my son.
Collins moistened his lips and gradually leaned closer to Elizabeth.
I am to be married to this man. I dare not twist away. Nor shall I close my eyes and pretend that the lips that inevitably will touch mine are the lips of the man who captivates me. But close my eyes, I must.
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