Chapter One

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Once Upon a Time...

Grosvenor Square, London. 1817.

Fitzwilliam Darcy had spent the last few hours willing his wife's suffering to end, but he hadn't realised until now how cold, still silence could be worse than listening to her agony. He held his breath until he thought his lungs would burst, but the sound he longed for never came. His heart constricted as he realised its portent.

Elizabeth would be devastated.

He jumped to his feet when the doctor slipped through the door, closing it carefully behind him. Although the man's hands were clean, blood had soaked into the edge of his rolled up sleeves and crimson spots marred the front of his white linen shirt. Darcy took a deep breath, expecting the worst.

"I am sorry, sir. We did everything in our power, but the cord was wrapped so tightly around—"

Darcy held up his hand, having no desire to hear more; knowing there would be time enough to grieve for his child later. The only thing that mattered now was for Elizabeth to recover from her ordeal. "And my wife?"

The doctor's grey eyes reflected his concern. "She is not as well as I would like. Mrs Darcy has lost a great deal of blood and is still weak."

"May I see her?"

"I think that would be wise."

Darcy had been pacing the hall for what felt like days. Her groans had reached his ears, even through the thick door panels, and he now wished he had insisted on remaining by her side, regardless of the doctor's opinions.  As he entered the darkened chamber the candles flickered on the mantel shelf, sending grotesque shadows dancing across the walls; as though hell's own demons had gathered to taunt him.

Elizabeth lay on her side, her knees drawn up to her stomach. The counterpane covering her to the shoulder was suspiciously smooth and clean, but evidence of her suffering lingered in the bowl of cloudy red water left on the floor and a jumble of stained sheets discarded on the dressing table.

Darcy had never in his life felt as useless, or as impotent, as he did at this moment. He dropped to his knees by the bed and cupped her pale cheek in his hand. "Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth opened her eyes at the sound of his voice, but they quickly flooded with tears. "Oh, Fitzwilliam, I am so sorry."

"Sorry for what, my love?"

"For...for not..." She inhaled deeply, her lips quivering as she struggled to hold back the tears. "For our s...son."

Darcy turned to the doctor for confirmation. The older man nodded his head before glancing towards the dressing table. What Darcy had believed to be crumpled linens shrouded the stillborn body of his son and heir. He breathed in slowly, clenching his teeth, knowing it would not help for Lizzy to see his own agonising disappointment. Once he had mastered his emotions, he whispered, "You cannot think it your fault, my love. It was not to be. There will be other children."

She closed her eyes, her forehead pinching as though in pain. "We waited so long for this blessing. What if there are no others? What if I never...?" Her voice faltered, no longer able to speak her fears aloud.

"As long as you are with me, I have everything I want." Taking her hand, he held it tightly between his own. "I need you, Lizzy. Only you."

Opening her eyes again she gifted him a weak smile. "Then we will grow old and grey together, my darling. I only hope I can give you an heir before that time arrives."

The doctor coughed; a less than subtle indication that it was time to leave. He kissed Elizabeth's cheek. "You must be exhausted. Sleep now, and we will talk again tomorrow. Never forget I love you."

"And I love you." Her fingers flickered in his grasp, even as her head rolled against the pillows as she fell into an unquiet slumber.

Darcy woke the following morning to news of Elizabeth's death. A voice, filled with pain and fury, cried out. It took a moment for him to recognise the voice, and the anguish, as his own.

The grief tore mercilessly through him, as though someone had forced their hand down his throat, cleaving his heart out. Enveloped in a blackness that seemed to have no end, he barely existed through the next few days. Eventually, his brain registered movement, and he found himself in his carriage headed for Pemberley, where his family would gather to pay their final respects.

Once at home, Darcy wandered the estate like a man barely alive. People addressed him with little expectation of a reply. The servants, themselves mourning the loss of a beloved mistress, executed their tasks in silence, passing through the house like ghosts in a mausoleum.

On the morning of the funeral frost covered the ground, sparkling like diamond dust on the blades of grass as the solitary coffin sank into the damp earth. Friends and family remained long after his neighbours had left. He knew he should be grateful for their presence, but he could not summon even one shred of appreciation. Their understanding only seemed to make things worse.

Gradually, the house emptied. His aunt and uncle returned to town, taking Georgiana with them. Richard, loath to leave, was required back on duty. Only Charles and Jane—herself mourning the loss of a beloved sister—remained behind. Sometimes, Darcy found his sister-in-law's empathy a comfort, but other days the sight of her face alone could send him spiralling back into the black abyss.

All light was gone; the candle that had illuminated his life, snuffed. Days tumbled into each other, time passing with no meaning.

After the despondency came the anger. Elizabeth had left him, taking their son and leaving him alone. How could he bear the solitude? Even in a house filled with guests he felt isolated, deserted. Loneliness crushed him like a millstone, extinguishing his spirit.

He began to imagine her voice calling to him like a siren, tempting him towards her. He wanted to be with her, wanted to fill the chasm in his heart where she had lived, and in his addled state he saw only one way to achieve that goal.

The chestnut case felt heavy in his hands as he removed it from the drawer. He flicked the brass catch with his thumbnail and raised the lid. The silver mounting on the Mantons caught the light from the window. He hefted one in his hand, feeling the weight against his palm. How long had it been since he had last felt anything? Elizabeth's death had stripped his senses, leaving nothing behind but an empty shell.

Despite the air filling his lungs, he was as good as dead.

Wandering to the stables he dismissed the groom, preferring to saddle a horse himself rather than suffer the boy's sympathetic glances. He rode out, heedless of time or direction, embracing the sensation as the wind scourged his skin, as though Mother Nature wanted to punish him for Elizabeth's death.

The animal beneath him snorted nervously, flattening its ears, prompting Darcy to survey his surroundings—an isolated patch of moorland at the very edge of his holdings. He dismounted, slapping the beast's rump. The sting on his palm seemed an all too brief moment of pain in a world with no sensation as he watched the horse gallop away down the valley.

Darcy sat on a nearby rock, the loaded pistol cradled in his hands. His mind wandered, time slipping past without a whisper. The autumn air pricked his cheeks and scoured his lungs, but he felt no connection with his body, as though he was shackled to the earth by the thinnest of threads.

Somewhere beyond his pitiful existence Elizabeth waited for him. There was no question; they had to be together. She was the other half of him, of his soul, joined in such a way that death could not separate them.

She was his beloved...forever.

It required only a small effort on his part for them to be reunited.

The muzzle of the gun felt icy cold against his temple, his finger crooking around the trigger as he sought to sever himself from his earthly existence.

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