It may be, as they say, a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. It is not, however, universally known that when such a man is also a vampire, he must, above all, be in want of blood. (It is not, of course, universally known that vampires exist, much less that they dare to inhabit the upper echelon of English society.)
Sadly, as the ever thwarted Mrs. Bennet would undoubtedly attest to, what one actually receives is not necessarily what one needs. And certainly almost never what one wants.
Of this disparity between what one wanted and what one received, Mr. Darcy was intimately familiar.
Having what he believed was the unfortunate luck to be both a vampire and an English gentleman in possession of a good fortune, Mr. Darcy quite often felt the burning disappointment of his wants and needs being at very definite odds. Indeed, it seemed to him that he had felt it most keenly from the moment he laid eyes on Miss Elizabeth Bennet on the night of that ridiculous country ball.
From the first his gaze landed upon her laughing face, Darcy had wanted Miss Bennet, in every way imaginable. And, from that moment, he knew that he must avoid her – for her sake, and for his – yet found it impossible to do so.
Darcy was drawn to Elizabeth's youth and vivacity like the proverbial moth to a flame. When it became obvious – truth be told, almost immediately – that he did not have the willpower necessary to do the right thing, he had hoped that he might drive her away by making himself disagreeable. It had very nearly succeeded.
Unfortunately for them both, the more time Darcy spent in her company, the more difficult it became to maintain an attitude of insolence and disrespect. What he had come to feel for Miss Bennet during their visits together at Rosings was exactly the opposite of what he professed. He had come to regard her very highly indeed.
When Mr. Collins brought news that Miss Bennet was too ill to join them for tea, Darcy's first instinct was to rush immediately to her side. Only Mrs. Collins's assurances that Miss Bennet was simply indisposed kept Darcy from acting the fool. He managed to remain with the company for exactly as long as good manners required and not a second longer.
Under the pretence of preparing for his imminent journey, Darcy excused himself. He did not retire to his rooms, as he said he would, but rather went with haste toward the Parsonage. Good sense only just stopped him from barging straight in. What possessed him? It was certainly folly to force his company on a lady who so clearly wanted to be alone.
Alone! Oh, the thoughts and emotions one little word could stir in a man! He envisioned Elizabeth, reclining on one of Mr. Collins's stiff yet perfectly appointed settees. She would be reading some novel, no doubt, or even more likely, a letter from one of her many sisters.
Darcy imagined Miss Bennet dozing off, the letter slipping unnoticed from her fingers onto the floor. He pictured quietly letting himself into the house, stealing into the drawing room like a thief, advancing upon her sleeping form. He would lean over Elizabeth – carefully, so as not to wake her – and place his lips upon her slender throat. Darcy imagined the way her sleeping mind would respond to his presence, making her chest heave and his name slip from her lips...
Hell and damnation!
He turned sharply and strode away from the house once more. The woman would undoubtedly be his ruin! Darcy attempted to gain mastery of his wayward thoughts but the attempt was in vain; Elizabeth Bennet remained the sole mistress of his thoughts, his mind, and indeed, his heart.
Yes, as surely as the dreaded vampirism claimed his body did Miss Bennet claim his heart. He, Darcy – lord of Pemberley and cursed monster of darkness – was in love with a woman who, according to all the laws of society, should be beneath his notice. And who, by the very laws of Nature and the Divine, should be far, far above his.
It was a match that could never be.
It was a match that every fibre of his being demanded.
Even if he did not have their perspective fortunes to consider, marriage with Miss Bennet would incur the wrath of his very formidable aunt, Lady Catherine. The grand lady would neverapprove of such a match. Unlike her nephew, however, Lady Catherine was not the bloodsucking fiend some of her social inferiors might call her in private. Weather her fury, Darcy might, if he believed such a union would end in anything but tragedy.
But how in Heaven's name could it end in anything else! He struggled to control his bestial nature now, with yards of ground and a solid wall between them! If he were to take Miss Bennet to his bed, if he had her soft, luscious body spread beneath him, ripe for the -
He was not such a monster that he would defile an innocent, honourable creature just to satisfy his own dark desires. This vow Darcy made in his mind only; his body would not, could not, concede. Every inch of his flesh raged at him to claim Miss Bennet for his own and take all that she had to offer.
And his heart?
That organ was every bit as traitorous as his body. His heart, which had been claimed so thoroughly by Miss Bennet, demanded he likewise claim hers. Heart and body conspired to make Miss Bennet his own regardless of Darcy's best intentions.
Fitzwilliam Darcy was a man (if he could make such bold use of the word) torn. The desire to have Elizabeth Bennet and the desire to save her from himself fought a desperate battle within his breast. They fought mercilessly, leaving Darcy, their poor battlefield, riddled with numerous, invisible scars that he would, he was certain, carry for the remainder of his days.
If anyone had happened to pass at that moment, they would have discerned no outward sign of the internal struggled taking place within Darcy. They might only have taken note of the far away look in his eyes or the uncertain step that carried him first toward the Parsonage, then away again. They would certainly know nothing of the anguish Darcy felt as he finally gave into the demands of his heart and body.
He would have Elizabeth Bennet. Even if it destroyed them both.
It was decided. He had fixed his resolve on a union – cursed though it may be – with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. All that remained was to obtain the lady's consent. Darcy strode purposefully toward the house once more, hoping against hope that Miss Bennet might save them both by rejecting his offer of marriage.