Amanda Price had been in love with Pride and Prejudice ever since she was twelve years old. It had become a fixture in her life, the bedrock on which she rested her romantic hopes, the favored pastime that took her away from the troubles of the world and transported her to Jane Austen's England, a time of gowns and ballroom dances and gentlemen who proposed when you least expected it. She had not realised exactly how much she wanted it until she went through the door. Amanda had never been so delighted with life - though she did shudder a bit when contemplating what the Bard of Bath would make of her creations in their interactions with Amanda.
And later, she'd never been as hurt as she was when Darcy told her that he couldn't marry her.
So it was that she found herself running away from Fitzwilliam Darcy and all the heartbreak that he had caused. She wasn't stupid enough to think that she could walk to somewhere else, especially without any money. But she couldn't remain there at Pemberley, and couldn't be forced to deal with Caroline Bingley or Mr. Collins or, worst of all, Mr. Darcy. So she walked away from the house, toward the hills.
In her anger and her pain, she had pushed on farther than she'd meant to, and at a faster pace. But at least it wasn't raining. It may have looked very romantic in the movies, but trying to walk through the rain in these clothes was a work-out and a half.
Of course. Mr. Darcy had followed her.
"Go away!" She didn't want him to see her like this, with red eyes and cheeks puffy from crying. Amanda had always worn her heart on her sleeve; it was the only way she knew how to live.
"I will not. You must return to the house."
"Why? So you can yell at me some more?"
"No, because it would be blight on my status as a host if I allowed you to wander off into the woods where doubtless some new adventure would befall you."
"Don't you dare make jokes. Not after what you said."
"I meant no offense, madam. Your propensity for causing trouble -"
"Is none of your concern," she cut in, sharply. "Fine, let's go back."
She turned and charged back down the hill, not looking to see if he was following her. He caught up to her easily and they walked in silence. She still held her book, and if he noticed, he chose not to comment on it.
They had made it nearly back to Pemberley without speaking. Amanda had thought that she had brought her emotions under control, but Darcy's mere presence didn't help her to become calm. Suddenly, she was angry. Really, really angry. She stopped and turned to look at him.
"Do you know what I am so bloody sick of?" She did not pause for him to respond, but continued with her rant. "The whole sexual double standard! It's all right for men, but women are condemned if they dare to have sex, or, God forbid, even behave in a way which suggests that one day they might like to have sex! No wonder you're keeping Georgiana locked up on the upper floor."
She took a deep breath and continued. "You know what? I'm not sorry. I won't let you make me feel guilty for my past. I'm not a virgin, that's true. I won't regret my life before I met you. And I won't pretend to be what I am not."
He did not say anything. His stony face kept him as remote as ever - she couldn't tell what he was thinking.
"We're back," she said flatly, all emotion gone out of her voice. "You are no longer in danger of being thought a bad host. I want to remain outside by the lake for a while, if that is all right."
"Very well." He bowed and left her, his long strides taking him quickly away.
All this could have been mine, she thought, paraphrasing Elizabeth Bennet, as she looked over the lake. It was a humbling thought. She was not Elizabeth, having turned Darcy down and then later coming to regret that decision. Amanda had accepted Darcy's love and had she not let her mouth run away with her (as always), she would still be engaged to him now.
And that was a depressing thought.
Think positive. Always look on the bright side of life.
Not even the Monty Python boys would make her feel better.
This was not at all how she had imagined it would be. They were not how she had pictured them. Caroline Bingley had hit on her; Wickham turned out to be a diamond in the rough.
But Darcy - Darcy was somehow more and less than what she'd imagined.
When Amanda learned that Lydia had run off with Bingley, she hurried to pack her belongings in order to return to Longbourn. Her treasured copy of Pride and Prejudice, now a bit water-logged and with the torn pages shoved back in haphazardly, was forgotten and left behind on a small table.
"Amanda, I asked you to marry me!" Michael exclaimed, as she balanced on one foot in the tub, poised to move out of Elizabeth's way and stop blocking the door.
This was not the best timing. They'd made it safely back to the flat by separating Michael and Darcy, and now, just as she was about to return Elizabeth to her home and her father, Michael felt the need to call some sort of 'dibs' on her. Of course, to him, she had disappeared right after he'd proposed. But she hadn't thought that he was actually serious about it.
Amanda was angry. Her time away, especially the misery of having her heart broken by Mr. Darcy, had kept her on an emotional rollercoaster and now her left-over anger, unexpressed on the night Michael had crashed her plans, came back to her. She stepped out of the tub toward him.
"You were drunk! You came over, when all I wanted to do was read my book, and you sat on my couch, and then you made a half-assed attempt at asking me to marry you. You pulled off the bottle-top and used it as the stand-in for the ring. Was I really supposed to take you seriously? You were barely even taking yourself seriously."
The hurt look on his face made her feel bad. She reached over and took one of his hands. He let her.
"Michael, I loved you. But after you cheated on me, I don't think I could ever trust you again. And that's something that's essential for me."
He dropped her hand. "It's always been him. You were always more interested in the fictional world of Jane Austen than in living in the real one. You were virtually cheating on me every time you read that book!"
"Well, at least I wasn't really cheating!"
Yes, this was exactly what she wanted to be doing: standing in her tiny bathroom, having a break-up fight with her boyfriend, while surrounded by her flatmate, Elizabeth Bennet, and Mr. Darcy.
"Amanda, you go through that door, even for ten seconds, and I'll be gone. And I will not be coming back."
"Oh, Michael, please don't do this now. I'm trying to send him home so that he can get married to her."
"Go through there, and I'm gone. This ends. One way or the other."
Amanda looked at the two men. There had never really been a choice between them.
She turned to Darcy, whose straightened spine indicated that he wasn't about to move one inch if it would give Michael satisfaction. "You walk around London like that, you'll get beaten up. Come on."
"I heard you, Michael, but what else can I do?"
As she watched Michael leave, she felt a small pang in her heart. For all that she knew she didn't have a future with him, she hadn't been lying. She'd loved him and they had had some good times together.
"Sorry, Pirhana. I really did not mean for you to have to witness that."
"Always knew you could do better than him."
"Pirhana!" she whispered, well aware that both Elizabeth and Darcy were still behind her, not yet through the door. "Don't say that. I'm going to fix what I messed up and then I'll be back. And then I'll try and make it so Michael doesn't hate me."
Pirhana looked sad, as if she knew something Amanda didn't. "Don't make me come in there after you."
Having said her goodbyes to the rest of the Bennets, Amanda took a minute to stand at the window of her - Elizabeth's - room. It was funny how quickly she'd adjusted to this sight, how much she'd come to love the rolling countryside. For a girl born and raised in the modern city of London, she'd found herself immediately comfortable with the rural sounds.
Her deal with Lady Catherine would not only separate Jane from Collins, but would put Jane back where she belonged, with Bingley. Everything would go to how it was supposed to be; it would be as if Amanda had never been there at all.
Amanda held onto Darcy's bus ticket as she flew down the stairs, mindless of the noise. He had left it for her.
Not one heartbeat do I forget.
She had to go to him.
She made it halfway down the stairs before she remembered. Elizabeth! Oh, God. What was she going to say? 'Sorry, but I'm stealing your future husband.'
When Amanda came down to the main hallway, Elizabeth was standing there.
"I have called for another carriage."
"But I thought -"
"Miss Price, did you think that I did not see the way he looked at you?"
Amanda just stood there, dumbfounded.
"There has been an attraction between the two of you from the beginning, has there not?"
"He told me he loved me the day before we came through the door," Amanda admitted.
"I thought as much, Miss Price." Amanda must have looked absolutely stunned, because Elizabeth laughed. "You are surprised? If anyone were to fall in love with a strong, independent woman from the future, would it not be Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley?"
Elizabeth continued. "I am altered from who I might have been. Nor do I see the sense in believing that my destiny is written. No one wishes to be told what they are to do. Ordered to marry someone. I should not wish to be regarded as a duty, an obligation that must be fulfilled." She smiled, a bit ruefully. "Perhaps if I had been here from the beginning, I would feel differently. But it is no use to have such regrets. I would not take away the knowledge that I have gained, the things that I have seen. A world where a woman may do so many things."
Amanda somehow found the power to speak. "Are you sure?"
Elizabeth's smile was full, her eyes sparkling. "I have a great desire to make my own mark upon the world. And, now, if I am able to obtain my father's consent, I shall. You have been a great friend to this family while I was gone. Go! With my blessing, and my fondest wishes for the happiness of you both."
Amanda didn't need to be told twice.
Amanda pulled away from kissing Darcy very reluctantly. She could go on doing this all day. But instinctively she knew that they had things to discuss and making out in the middle of the garden would not ensure that everything was clear and settled between them.
Well, one more kiss wouldn't hurt. She wrapped her arms around Darcy again.
This time it was Darcy who disengaged, breathing a bit heavily.
"I thought," he confessed in a rush, "that if I pretended it were only a dream, it would ease the pain of losing you. But I found I could not leave Longbourn without letting you know that I remembered."
"I'm so glad you did," she said, tearing up a little.
"And Mr. Dolan?" he asked, spitting out the name as if it had offended him. Well, Amanda thought, in a way it had.
"We're over. Have been for a while, really. But I'm sorry that we ended things like that. It was not a scene I wanted you or Elizabeth or Pirhana to have to witness."
"If he were a gentleman, he would not have put you on the spot like that, or treated you in such a manner."
"You once said some very ungentlemanlike things to me, you know."
"And for that, I must apologise, a thousand times. No other woman has ever stirred those types of feelings in me before."
That definitely deserved another kiss. After that, she wrapped around him into a hug, resting her head against his chest. Then a realisation struck her.
"Oh, no!" she cried, moving back. "I can't stay here. I made a deal with Lady Catherine."
She began to turn but Darcy's hand lighted on her arm, keeping her firmly in his personal space.
"I find I am quite tired of you saying goodbye to me and then walking away from me. It has occurred at least three times in as many days and I find it exceedingly disagreeable," he said, his voice huskier than usual.
"But I made her a deal! It is my fault that Jane and Bingley did not end up together in the first place."
"It is quite interesting to hear you say that, madam, because I seem to recall several conversations between the two of us where you blamed me for parting the two would-be lovers and for the resultant, disastrous union with Mr. Collins. Had I known that proposing marriage to you would bring out this element of your character, I should have done it the first time we argued."
She smiled in spite of the severity of the situation.
"You would save the whole world, if you could. Had you strength enough. You worry about Georgiana. You worry about the Bennets. You would forsake your happiness - our happiness - for the sake of Jane Bennet and Bingley. Amanda Price, you are a revelation. How could I not love you? I ask you only this: allow me to take care of Lady Catherine. I will see to it that she upholds her part of the bargain."
"But what about my end of the bargain? I swore that I would never come into her sight."
"You have spared me the colossal assault on the senses that is the London you come from. I have you. What more could I want? I should not care if I never see Lady Catherine again."
"Why would you do all this for me?"
"Perhaps you will recall that Lady Catherine threatened me as well, if I did not forsake the company of the Bennets. I highly dislike being told what to do, most especially by Lady Catherine."
"Are you sure?" she asked, softly.
"I have never been so sure in all my life. Now, are we settled?" he asked, as he drew her onto the couch. "Perhaps we shall go the next quarter of an hour without any further arguments on the subject of people who are not here."
"Does that mean, Mr. Darcy, that I am free to pick arguments with you? You are, after all, here."
"Indeed I am. Pray, have at it."
She went with the first thing that popped into her head. "You taunted me."
"You did. You looked at me and you said: 'All ladies can sing.' With that typical Darcy disdain."
"And you picked up the gauntlet and stood in front of us. I was deeply amused. And captivated. You have no need to gild yourself with jewelry or feathers. You have not the training to entrap a husband, but only the pure essence of your voice. You stood up there and sang. I had never heard anything like that in my life."
"You were amused in spite of yourself, one might say."
Amanda could not stop her hands from touching him, fingers playing with the hair at the base of his neck.
"I believe this is my favourite spot in all of Pemberley," she announced.
"Is it not a little early for you to be making such a weighty decision?"
"You are quite right. This is my new favourite spot."
"And what, pray tell, was your old favourite?"
"The lake, of course."
"Of course," he murmured. "In that event, I shall endeavour to make each spot more appreciated than the last."
"And how long will that take, I wonder?"
She moved closer, curling into him.
"I wish never to leave this place," he whispered into her ear. She shivered. "I cannot now imagine my life without you." He paused, turning to face her. "Do you trust me?"
She looked straight into his eyes. "I've always trusted you. I've always loved you."
"I do not know how it was that I became so lucky, but I swear: I will never let you go again."
Amanda had the final word. "We are in agreement at last, Mr. Darcy."