Page 17 of Darcy and Deception

“I like it very much. The seaside is quite beautiful.”

“Have you been sea bathing?”

“Yes. I found it is quite different from swimming in a pond.”

“You know how to swim?” His eyebrows rose.

“There is a small pond on our property where I have been swimming many times with my sister.” She gazed at him sidelong. “Are you scandalized?”

“Not at all. I believe swimming to be a useful skill for men and women alike.” His voice lowered. “Although I suppose the degree of scandal depends on what you and your sister were wearing to swim.”

Had Mr. Darcy made an indelicate comment? For a moment she almost disbelieved her ears.

“With such beauty on display, I am certain it was a most arresting sight.” As he continued, his eyes fell on her, leaving no doubt that he intended the suggestiveness.

Is he flirting with me? As her cheeks flushed, she resolved not to reveal that she bathed in the pond unclothed. “I wore a bathing costume at the beach.”

“I see. It is a shame that men and women traditionally occupy different parts of the beach. I am sure you appear quite lovely in your bathing costume.”

Unsure how to respond to such a statement, Elizabeth remained silent. How did he change from angry to flirtatious so swiftly? And why?

His eyes were half-closed but gazed only at her. He wants me to know he still entertains romantic feelings for me. This realization both thrilled and confused her.

Mr. Darcy continued. “If you have only just arrived in Brighton you may not have had an opportunity to visit the sights.”

Elizabeth cleared her throat. “Not many, no.”

“I have visited the town a few times. Perhaps I might escort you to some of the points of interest?”

She should say no. She should remain as far as possible from Mr. Darcy. But no doubt he would be a most engaging tour guide for the town; Mr. Wickham seemed best suited to recommend the best pubs. Despite his pride and disdain, Mr. Darcy would be a far more agreeable companion for a few hours of touring Brighton.

She should find some reason to refuse, but her mind could not find an acceptable excuse. He might take it as a sign that she preferred Mr. Wickham, and she did not want to leave him with that impression. She also owed the master of Pemberley an apology. “That would be most agreeable,” she said finally.

“Excellent.” Mr. Darcy smiled. “Could I call on you soon at the colonel’s house?”

“Of course,” she said faintly. What have I done?

“Very good.” With a nod of his head, Mr. Darcy swept her back into the dance, and they spoke little.

Chapter Six

Elizabeth sat in Colonel Forster’s drawing room, her eyes focused on her embroidery while her mind was not. They had been in Brighton for six days, and she had made almost no progress in uncovering Mr. Wickham’s nefarious plans.

She had not expected to find a manuscript labeled “My Plans for Betraying England,” but she had hoped for some clues about how he was accessing secret information or the location of the spies’ hideout.

However, Mr. Wickham seemed perfectly at ease and was rarely absent on mysterious errands. Elizabeth had relayed the names of his friends to Colonel Forster, who had found little reason to be concerned about them. If only Mr. Wickham had introduced her to a suspicious French émigré with mysterious sources of income! Then the entire business might be on a path to conclusion.

Colonel Forster was not impatient with her but apparently had made little progress with his own investigations. More than once he shrugged and told Elizabeth that sometimes the game of espionage was played at a leisurely pace.

Today Mr. Wickham had promised to pay a call, and Elizabeth was determined to elicit information from him. Fortunately, the colonel had sent Lydia on a shopping expedition with his wife, so her sister would not be glaring jealous daggers at her when the officer visited.

Already Elizabeth had been waiting an hour, constantly sticking herself with the needle when her attention wandered from her embroidery. Finally, a knock sounded at the front door. However, when the housekeeper opened the drawing room door, she announced, “Mr. Darcy to see you, miss.”

Oh heavens, what should I do now? At the ball a few days ago, Mr. Darcy had promised to call upon her, but when he had not, she had been relieved. If Elizabeth took a walk or a drive with him now, she would miss Mr. Wickham’s arrival. But if Mr. Darcy remained, it would create an awkward scene when the other man arrived. Was there some way she could induce Mr. Darcy to depart? She could thi

nk of nothing.

Elizabeth put aside her embroidery and rose. “Thank you, Dawkins. I am certain Colonel Forster would like to see Mr. Darcy as well.” At least she could avoid being alone with him. Dawkins escorted the man into the room and exited, closing the door behind her.

Tags: Victoria Kincaid Historical