Elizabeth returned to her rooms, playing their argument over in her mind. She had spoken more harshly than she had intended, but she could hardly stand by and allow Darcy to insinuate that she was a foolish woman who intentionally endangered Georgiana.
Georgiana! Elizabeth had quite forgotten about her. She dismissed Thomas as she came to her room and let herself in.
“What on earth was all that yelling?” asked Georgiana.
“Lord Stapleton and Mr. Colborne are not welcome at Pemberley,” said Elizabeth. “Your brother was not at all pleased to discover them here. Apparently, they are friends of Mr. Wickham’s rather than of Darcy’s.”
At the mention of Mr. Wickham’s name, Georgiana paled. “Have they left?” she whispered.
“They have, and there is no reason that you cannot return to your rooms for the night.”
“Of course,” Georgiana murmured. She left Elizabeth’s room quickly, looking worried.
Would Elizabeth ever unravel all the secrets that surrounded her? The very thought of it exhausted her. She needed sleep. The following morning she could begin to put together what was going on at Pemberley.
Elizabeth awoke feeling no more refreshed, but with an idea of what she needed to do. She and Darcy were married, and there was no undoing that. What she needed to do was to make the best of it. She loved Pemberley, and she loved Georgiana. She could have a very pleasant life there with one exception—and what an exception it was.
She rose and called Stewart to bring her breakfast and tend to her toilette. After she had eaten and dressed, she took a deep breath and went to do what needed to be done.
Elizabeth walked to Darcy’s study and knocked on the door. He called for her to enter and she braced herself for what was about to happen. She refused to look weak in front of him. She stepped through the door.
“I have an arrangement to suggest that I hope will be satisfactory to both of us,” she said, by way of greeting. Darcy looked confused, but nodded for her to continue.
“It is clear that this marriage has not been successful for either of us,” she said. “I am a constant disappointment to you, and I know you must regret marrying me. However, we are bound together. Here is my suggestion: I consent to consummation of the marriage in order to provide you with an heir. This is my responsibility, and I will uphold the vows that I made.”
Darcy began to interrupt, but Elizabeth held up her hand.
“Let me finish. I know I am not the sort of lady that you, or anyone else, imagined as your wife. So I propose that you find a more acceptable woman. Take a mistress. I will not stand in your way. Bring her here, if you would like, and we shall live like the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire with their Bess. It does not matter to me how you do it, or with whom. It is not an ideal solution; certainly, it is not what I had hoped for from our marriage. But, considering the circumstances, I believe it is the closest we can get to happiness.”
He stared at her, stunned. How could she possibly imagine that was what he wanted? Their fight the previous night had been harsh, but he had imagined that they would talk about it sensibly once both of them had calmed down. He was willing to admit that he spoke severely, and hoped that she would do the same. Clearly that was not to be.
“Say something,” Elizabeth said in a frustrated voice.
“Elizabeth, I do not feel that our disagreement last night merits the solution that you are proposing,” he said. “I want you for my wife. I spoke to you much more harshly than I should have last night. I was consumed with the idea of what might have happened had I not arrived when I did. You did not deserve the words that I used last night. Please, let us put this behind us.”
“But this is not the first time something like this has happened, Darcy,” she said. “We argue, and then you apologize, until the next time. It just keeps happening. We are clearly not suited for one another.”
“I will not have a wife purely for the procreation of children,” Darcy said. “That was not my intention in marrying you.”
“Well,” she replied, “that is what I am offering, so it may be that you will. I will give you some time to consider it. I think you will realize that this is the best solution for both of us.”
With a swish of her skirts, she left his study.
Darcy stared at the door for several minutes, willing her to come back and say that she had reconsidered. How many times now had he damaged their relationship by hurting her with his words? Would he ever be able to show her the depth of his love? He was beginning to wonder if he was even capable of love. If he was in love with her, how could he continue to make her feel this way?
He dropped his head into his hands at the thought that she had given him permission to take a mistress, as if he would be so cavalier with his marriage vows. As if there was any woman on earth whom he could love a fraction as much as the woman he had made his wife!
He thought back to the calm way she had presented the idea to him. It seemed as if it caused her no grief at all to consider him being unfaithful to her—she had even gone so far as to suggest that he bring his lover to Pemberley while Elizabeth pretended not to notice! His stomach roiled at the thought of it. How could she imagine this was a situation he would agree to?
Elizabeth was right about one thing. Darcy had no intention of ever forcing her to do anything she did not want to do. If he could not change her mind, they would live like strangers in their house, with only awkward meetings where they tried to create a son. He could not imagine the pain of that life. But how could he win her over? And how could he ensure that he did not continue to sabotage his relationship with her?