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For those of you catching up with this for the first time, this story is written in round robin form by our authors, but the plot was chosen by readers on the Fantasy Reads for Austen Fans Facebook page. They voted on the main story line (second chance at love), magical system (animal familiars), setting (a magical library), original character (Darcy’s valet who is also his magical mentor), magical creature (griffin), and more. Our authors are: Melanie Rachel, Victoria Kincaid, Monica Fairview, Sarah Courtney, Lari Ann O’Dell, and yours truly, Abigail Reynolds.
You can see previous chapters here.
And now here is Chapter Seven of Mr. Darcy and the Enchanted Library, where some of your questions will be answered. Of course, you may not be speaking to me afterwards! 🙂
As the first light of morning streamed through the window, Elizabeth awoke to the same mortifying thoughts and meditations which had at length closed her eyes. She could not yet recover from the surprise of what had happened, and her cheeks burned at the recollection. There she had been, in the bedroll by the fireplace, feigning slumber rather than acknowledging that sleeping in the same room as Darcy – in front of him! – was impossible.
And she had been caught in her deception when she heard his footsteps and felt his arms go around her, lifting her into the air and carrying her to the bed. She should have just opened her eyes and demanded to know what he was doing, but it seemed easier to continue to pretend to be asleep. Especially since that meant she could enjoy the brief feeling of his embrace, a warmth she had despaired of ever feeling again, a closeness that filled her heart. Was it so wrong to steal that moment for her memories? Even if it was only Darcy giving into his gentlemanly beliefs that the lady should have the comfort of the bed.
And then she had felt his soft lips against her forehead and the warmth of his breath flowing over her skin as he had whispered, “Sleep well, Elizabeth.”
That kiss could not be explained away as the result of ingrained good manners.
What did it mean? Did he still feel some affection towards her?
She could still feel his touch, and it made heat rise deep within her, making her want more. But it could never be. She was the Librarian, and that meant she could never marry, even if he would have her, and there was no reason to think anything had changed in that regard. But, oh, how she longed for just one more moment of closeness, one where she did not have to pretend to be unaware!
She sat up and gazed at Darcy’s sleeping form by the fireplace. Perhaps it was just that sleeping in the same room made it hard to avoid feeling tender towards him. Or perhaps it had been the result of fighting for their lives side by side.
Or perhaps she was lying to herself. How did a woman ever forget her first love?
But she needed to remember she was on a mission, not here for her pleasure. Should she wake him so they could get started? No; the healer had said he would need rest. And she needed the time to collect herself. She quietly gathered up her clothing and slipped behind the screen to change into her day dress, mentally thanking the library servant who had taken care to pack clothing with fastenings down the front which she could put on without assistance.
Then her rebellious mind insisted on presenting her with a different image, one where Darcy was doing up the buttons on the back of her dress. A surge of desire rose inside her, her skin prickling with desire as she imagined him standing close behind her, his deft fingers moving slowly up her spine —
No. This was no time to allow romantic fantasies into her head. Especially not ones about the man who had already betrayed her once.
Discipline. She needed to remember the years she had spent learning the self-control necessary to hold the Librarian’s power. These free moments should be used to study, to prepare herself for their quest. Her task was to help him perform a spell, nothing more, and that should be her focus. But she could not resist the temptation to steal a glance at his profile, the chiseled lines softened in sleep, as she hefted her spell book onto the desk.
Settling herself in the chair, she opened the cover, and her breath caught in her throat at the sight of a completely empty page. What had happened to it? The ornate illuminations and words of the spells had vanished as if they had never existed.
In shock, she turned one page after another, faster and faster. All blank. She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, but it made no difference.
Abraxas! Something is wrong. All the words have been erased from my book!
She could feel the griffin’s presence in her mind, but he said nothing.
Abraxas? What is the matter?
The griffin sighed. You drained the book. Where do you suppose the energy for your rescue efforts was coming from?
She drew in a sharp breath, her cheeks growing hot. The Library has always been the source for my spells.
A feeling of heaviness came from her familiar. That is for necessary magic, like fighting the troll. Unnecessary use of magic damages the Library.
But it was necessary! He was injured and needed help.
You could have waited for a cart to carry him. The amount of magic you used to transport that man could have built a new library entrance or saved a dozen lives.
Her throat grew tight. How can I fix it? Should I pour my own magic into the book? It might take years to replenish it, but she would do it.
It is not so simple. The book is destroyed, its contents lost to us.
A spell book that had existed for centuries, gone. Forever. At her hand. Her stomach churned.
She felt the loss like part of her own body. Irreplaceable. And what of the immediate implications for their quest? She would have no ability to look up spells, or to connect to the past Librarians! How could she continue without their support? And Georgiana’s life depended upon. Must I return to the Library, then? Defeat tasted bitter on her tongue.
The Library set your task, you must complete it.
But if I cannot access the Library…
And you must do it on your own, with only your own magic and knowledge.
She licked her dry lips. It had been years since she had worked on her own, and even then, she had only common magic, those weak powers available to people without familiars. Not until she called Abraxas to her could she use her full abilities, and after that she had the Library at her disposal.
Oh, how she hated feeling Abraxas’ disapproval! I did not know what else to do. I was afraid he might not survive.
Possible, but he is just one man. The library serves the entirety of human world and the Fae. We cannot favor a single individual.
But this one individual had been dear to her. She had loved him.
She did not intend Abraxas to hear that thought, but apparently he had, and his response was sharp. Have you forgotten what he did to you?
It was like an icy bucket of water dumped over her head. Her body remembered for her, that worst day of her entire life. The sick, crushing mortification as she had walked out of her meeting with the Patronesses of Magic, having failed to call even the weak familiars they offered her. She had known from the moment she walked in the door that they intended to humiliate her. She had not expected to be offered the sort of lofty magical creatures a highborn young lady might get, but there was not even a typical cat or bird. No, the Patronesses had set out a rat, an old badger, a turtle with a scarred shell, and an earthworm for her. An earthworm! But she had swallowed the insult, having no other choice, and did her best to call the creatures, never imagining she would fail. After all, her magic was strong, and she had only lacked the opportunity to meet with the Patronesses, a chance that her father had denied her, but Darcy had arranged. Darcy, who had first insulted her, and then later, after seeing her magical abilities, courted her assiduously, vowing his love and promising to announce their engagement as soon as she had met with the Patronesses.
After that meeting, she had thought nothing to make her feel worse. Except then Darcy had appeared, with that blank, unapproachable expression that still haunted her dreams. The cold, crisp words had come from the same lips that had kissed her so tenderly only that morning, telling her an engagement was no longer possible. And then, after a perfunctory wish for her future felicity, he had walked out of her life. His words of love, his tender touches, they had all been meaningless, mere tools for winning a magical wife. And when she failed to bond to a familiar, she was useless to him.
She ran her hand over her mouth, swallowing the nausea rising in her throat. And she had sacrificed her magical book for his sake! What a fool she was!
For his sake, or for your pride? Abraxas nudged her mind.
Abraxas knew her better than anyone in the world, including all her weaknesses, and his words cut like broken glass. She buried her face in her hands, hot tears stinging the corner of her eyes.
The griffin was right. Ever since Darcy had appeared before her in the library, she had not been able to resist rubbing her new powers in his face, displaying her magic to the man who had once rejected her for having none. How gratifying it had been to see his stunned expression when he learned she had magically transported him for three miles! Oh, her pride, her cursed, misplaced pride!
Have you given even a thought as to why you were attacked by the troll? Someone is targeting you, and you have been too preoccupied with that man to consider the significance of that.
She straightened abruptly. That cut to the quick, that she had allowed Darcy to distract her from her duties.
“Is something the matter?” Darcy’s voice, still rough with sleep, came from behind her. The same deep, resonant voice that had once tempted her, the same voice that had broken her heart five years ago.
He was only being pleasant to her because he needed her Librarian powers – those same powers that were now out of her reach. She could not tell him, either of her failure or her new weakness.
Blinking back her tears, she lowered her hands and said in her iciest voice, “Merely a little headache. I will thank you to return to the bed. The healer said you must rest.”
His smile faded, to be replaced by that dreaded blank look. “Have I offended you? I only thought to make you more comfortable.”
“I will not have this quest endangered because you will not listen to advice. Now pray excuse me. I will have breakfast sent up to you.”
He reached out his hand. “Elizabeth, wait!”
Fury burning in her chest, she spat out, “You gave up the right to use that name the day you rejected me.”
He took half a step backwards, as if she had slapped him. “It was never a rejection of you. I had responsibilities, duties, that left me no choice.”
“Of course you had a choice! You chose your so-called duty and your precious family name over the promises you made to me.” She saw him flinch, but she could not stop, not after having this argument inside her head for hundreds of sleepless nights. “But it cost you nothing, did it, to charm the gullible country girl on the chance she might win a familiar? You could always walk away if she failed.”
His face grew pale. “It was not like that. I meant every word I said to you. But I could not marry a non-magical woman, no matter how much I wanted to. I always knew that, and I never would have courted you, had I not believed so certainly that you had magic.”
“How lovely for you, to be so utterly blameless for all the harm you did to me! Did you ever think about that, even for moment?”
“Every day.” The words were barely audible.
She did not believe him. “Did you ever think of what would have happened if you married me anyway? The world would still have turned on its axis. Your wealth and lands would still be yours. You would still be received by the ton, even if a few of them sniggered about your non-magical wife. But that would be intolerable, would it not? Better to destroy my life than for you to have a wife who was anything but the best!” Her voice was shaking, along with her hands.
He gripped the bedstead, as if he needed its support to stay upright. “You seem to be doing remarkably well for someone whose life was destroyed, Your Eminence.”
“No thanks to you!”
But there it was; he did not care that she had been hurt and nothing she could say or do would ever change that. The only thing he cared about was his own needs and desires. There was nothing for it but to complete this quest and leave him behind. Forever.
Clutching the now useless book to her chest like a shield, she stormed from the room, slamming the door shut behind her. She did not stop moving until she reached the public room where she would be safe from pursuit, or at least from any chance at private conversation.
Through her pain and fury, one thought came clear. It was a fortunate thing she had been cut off from her Library powers, or her rage might have caused the entire inn to be enclosed in a giant block of ice.
She would never, ever forgive him. Or herself, for allowing him close again.
Well, you knew a Hunsford moment had to be coming sooner or later, right? You’re not going to throw rotten tomatoes at me, are you? Wait a minute, I think I’d better go hide in my bunker! Come back next week when Melanie Rachel brings us some big surprises!