Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Sixteen! In case you are only just joining us, or have missed a part, never fear. Chapter 1 is here. Just follow the “Next Chapter” links at the bottom to read it as a serial. If you only missed last week’s chapter, then just click for Chapter 15.
Last we left our heroines, they’d learned not much had changed with Lydia. Still determined to fix Elizabeth’s biggest regret and find a way to get Elizabeth back to her own time, they decide to learn as much as they can about Lydia’s elopement.
Chapter 16: The Search for Elizabeth
Ellie dropped her head onto the back of the sofa and groaned. “No, no more. I need a break.”
“I know it’s a lot of information, but if you’re going to save Lydia, you’re going to need to know it all,” insisted Tom.
“Remind me again why Lizzy isn’t going through this torture?”
He laughed that low rumble that made her toes curl and her knees go weak and slipped his hand under her hair, his fingers massaging into the knots of her tension-filled neck. “Because we all agreed the less she learned about her future the better, remember.”
She covered her tired eyes with her hands. “So, I have to recite every inn from Brighton to London like I’m listing the kings of England in a history lesson? I can’t do this.” Her voice was whiney and she sounded like a petulant child, but she didn’t care. Forty-eight hours of cramming this tedious information into her skull as though she was stuffing herself into a particularly tight pair of skinny jeans had made her this way. Her head was going to explode!
Last night, she had even dreamt she travelled from Brighton to London on one of those terrible reality shows like The Amazing Race and had to check in at every inn Lydia did to win. She and Fitzwilliam Darcy were actually paired together against Lydia and Wickham, who had a huge head start. Every time they stopped at an inn, Wickham and Lydia had left only a few hours before. Catching them was hopeless. She couldn’t even escape while she slept!
Tom nuzzled around her ear, planting a small kiss to the shell. “Would coffee help? Or, it’s almost time for dinner. I could open a bottle of wine.”
She moaned and turned her face towards his. “Wine would be lovely,” she mumbled, cupping his cheek with her palm.
He smiled contentedly and held her gaze. “Red or white?”
“I don’t care as long as it’s wine.” Ellie leaned in and pressed her lips to his, wanting him to forget Lydia for just a little while. It didn’t hurt that she adored kissing him, running her fingers through his hair, tracing the muscles on his chest with her hands. When it came to snogging Tom Darcy, she was like a child in sweet shop. She couldn’t get enough.
“Ellie,” he laughed, placing one last kiss to her chin. “I’ll never get the wine if you keep distracting me this way.”
“I like being a distraction.”
She pulled him back in and wanted to cheer when he didn’t argue but applied himself to studying her lips rather than the maps and journals spread on the coffee table. Before long, they were laid out on the sofa while Tom mapped a trail from her ear down her neck, his breath tickling the fine wisps of hair behind her ear. The clock on the mantel chimed and he groaned and stopped the lovely things he was doing. “I really like you, Ellie, but I don’t want to rush things. I want this to be more than just a fling.” He lifted his head to look her in the eye. “We need to stop before the brain in my head completely shuts down in favour of the brain somewhere else.” He turned a bit red when he said the last, which was so cute. He was very sweet to want to wait like he did.
She bit her bottom lip while she smiled and nodded. “I want this to be more than a fling, too.”
After one more kiss to her lips, he rose, tugging at the legs of his trousers when he stood. “I’ll be back with the wine if you can move all of this.” He motioned to the journals and maps on the table. “I don’t want to spill wine on any of it. Even white could smear the ink.”
“Sure, I don’t mind.” She bit her lip and grinned while she watched Tom’s well-formed bum as he left, then carefully stacked the maps protected by plastic film and moved them to Tom’s desk. Fitzwilliam’s journals went into one pile and Elizabeth’s another, placing hers near the corner. When the top most of Elizabeth’s journals slid to the floor and fell open with a thud, Ellie leaned down to pick it up, finding it coincidentally on the entry about Lydia’s death.
She had wondered since her return about Lydia’s demise, which she was certain occurred earlier now than what happened originally. Why had Lydia died so much sooner? And how could Lydia have died bearing a child in a later timeline that never existed in the first?
She was still staring at the journal entry when Tom returned, a bottle of red wine in one hand and two glasses in the other. He smiled when she looked up and returned the book to the stack.
“Find something interesting?” he asked, pouring them both a large serving.
“No, it fell and happened to open to the page where Lizzy mentions Lydia’s death. It got me thinking.”
His forehead crinkled and his brows drew together. “How so?”
“Well, in the original timeline, Lydia lived longer didn’t she? I mean, she didn’t die until she was older.”
He scratched the back of his head. “I think she and Wickham were married almost ten years when she died. I would normally check the year for you, but since the journals have changed, I can’t.” He gave a bit of a chuckle. “It’s so strange knowing that. Why is this such a big deal?”
“Well, why when she lived longer in the first timeline did she not die in childbirth or have a child? Wouldn’t something like that had to have happened?”
With a shrug, he rested his wine on his knee. “Who says she didn’t?”
“Who says she wasn’t pregnant early in their marriage? You have to remember that Wickham was abusive. She probably lost the baby early in the pregnancy due to either stress or a beating Wickham gave her. They also didn’t have much money, so I could easily imagine him forcing her to get rid of it as well. I’ve read of teas and herbs that ladies used for such a purpose. There’s really no way of knowing for sure, but it’s more than likely what happened.”
She blew out a noisy breath. “I suppose you’re right. I never considered those possibilities.”
“How many women, even today, miscarry without realising they were ever pregnant. They didn’t know for sure that a woman was pregnant for months in those days because they had no way of testing them, so the mother had to wait until she felt the baby move. If Lydia lost it early enough, it would never have been mentioned—not that Wickham or Lydia were thoughtful enough to leave journals. I do have a handful letters from Lydia to Elizabeth, but they’re all rather shallow. Mostly, she asked for money when Wickham’s debts became too severe. Vapid descriptions of assemblies and parties for the officers filled the remainder.”
“I don’t suppose there are letters from Wickham then?” she asked, wondering if the man ever thought of more than himself.
He frowned. “One or two, but they’re worse than Lydia’s. He bragged constantly about marrying into Darcy’s family and demanded money to ensure Mrs Darcy never worried about her sister.”
“But he wasn’t a part of the Darcy family,” she interrupted. “He married Lizzy’s sister.”
“In that time, he would’ve been considered a brother, even if it was only by marriage, and he enjoyed rubbing Fitwilliam’s nose in it.”
“He sounds like a megalomaniac and a right prick.”
He laughed. “He was definitely both.”
They began to have a more date-like chat after that, discussing favourite movies, music, and random nonsense. When they finished their wine, Ellie, who had been resting her head against his shoulder, leaned it back so she could see his face. “Do you know where Lizzy went? She said she would walk in the rose garden, but that was a couple of hours ago.”
He peered out of the window with is brows furrowed. “I don’t see her, but I am certain she is okay.”
Ellie sighed and curled her legs up onto the sofa. “I think she’s worried because nothing has happened for so long. It’s been a couple of days and there hasn’t even been a random shooting star in the night sky much less during the day. We just never know when something is going to happen, and we can’t force it—no matter how much she wants to return.”
“I’m sure she’s frustrated, but one of you has to go back sometime or I would cease to exist, wouldn’t I? I mean, that’s the obvious way to know that she still returns. You said that she didn’t wake in eighteen-thirteen while you were here. Eventually, one of you has to go back or everything would be different.”
“I suppose,” she responded slowly. “But so much has changed from when I travelled back the first time. Honestly, though, I don’t think she’s looking at the situation the way you are. She probably feels like the longer she is away from home, the less likely it is she’s going to return.”
“Unfortunately, it makes sense.”
The last thing she wanted to do was leave the cosy spot beside Tom on the sofa, but they needed to find Elizabeth. Reluctantly, she unfurled her legs and rose. “We should find her for dinner anyhow. Maybe we can even figure out something to cheer her up?”
“What do you have in mind?” He smiled and followed as she picked up her cardigan from a nearby chair and pulled it on.
“I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. This isn’t exactly something that can be solved with a special pudding or bag of sweets, is it?”
He chuckled and laced his fingers with hers. “No, it isn’t. Why don’t we search for her first, then I’ll see if Millie has any suggestions. I can make up some excuse like she broke up with her boyfriend or the like.”
They searched the house first. Tom figured she probably returned after a long ramble and found a convenient window seat to sit in and read, but even after checking every window in the main rooms, they couldn’t find her. They walked in all of the gardens around the house, even hunting down a gardener to let them into the locked, walled garden just to be sure she wasn’t there, but still had no luck.
“Could she have walked out to the folly?” asked Tom. “She seemed intrigued by it when we mentioned it. Perhaps she wanted to see it for herself.”
“Maybe, but even though she was more than a little annoyed by our request that she stay near the house, she has never gone beyond the lake or the forest. I don’t believe for one second that she would walk as far as the folly.”
He looked around the grounds as he blew out a breath. “We’ve checked everywhere else. I don’t know where else she could be.”
She didn’t think he was correct, but she could understand why he felt it was a possibility. With a shrug, Ellie took his hand and they walked the most direct trail from the house to the folly. But, after a look around the outside, where they disturbed a squirrel who voiced his irritation by chattering at them, and peering inside, they realised she wasn’t there either. Where could she have gone?
As they hurried back, Tom stopped in his tracks on the bridge and looked at Ellie excitedly. “Could she have gone back without us realising?”
“I don’t see how. It’s been cloudy, but there’s been no rain or hail or we would’ve heard it in the study. We would’ve known somehow, wouldn’t we? Or would we forget she was ever here?” Fear twisted her gut. “We won’t forget her when she goes back, will we? I mean, she’s my friend. I don’t want to forget any of this—even if it has been stressful and frustrating.”
“I don’t know,” he answered with concern written on his expression. “I wish I could tell you for sure, but this isn’t exactly something that happens to me every day.”
She laughed tiredly. “I remember thinking the same thing when this all started.”
“The two of you have been through a lot together in a short time. I’m sure you’ve become close.”
Ellie stared out at the swans gliding across the glassy lake. “I suppose. She doesn’t share much of what she’s thinking, but we’ve had some fun since I found her.”
“You took her to a pub,” he said with humour. “I just can’t imagine Elizabeth Darcy in a modern pub.” His shoulders slumped as though he just remembered she was missing. He blew out a noisy breath. “You’re right. She has to be here somewhere.” He glanced around him. “Ellie, does Elizabeth know how to swim?”
Her eyes hurt from how wide they became. “If she drowned, you wouldn’t exist.”
“Unless that was how she returned.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. She’s here somewhere.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to walk around it—at least the part nearer the house.”
Without another idea, his suggestion was the best they had, so she followed when he tugged her to the bank. A half-hour and a pair of muddied Converse later, Ellie sat on the front lawn and ungracefully dropped back to lie on the grass. “I’m knackered. We must’ve walked twenty miles and still found no sign of her.”
“I’m just glad the house is closed to the public for the day. If it wasn’t, we’d have had to search the tour groups and worry about her blending in with the people on the grounds.” With a shake of his head, a corner of his lips twitched. “Twenty miles? Exaggerate much?”
She stuck out her tongue at him. “I don’t go to the gym, and I don’t enjoy exercise, but you might persuade me to run if you chased me with a gun.”
He sat beside her on the grass with a laugh. “What if I just dangled some wine or chocolate in front of you?”
“You take your life in your hands. I might just knock you out and take whatever you are dangling in front of me.”
“Such violence,” he chuckled.
“Never tease a woman with wine and chocolate. We can’t be held responsible when men behave so irrationally.” He was flirting with her and she loved every minute, but they needed to find Elizabeth. “Where do we look now?”
“Perhaps we should start our search from the beginning?”
“What?” she cried. “You must be joking.”
“This isn’t exactly a confined area. We could’ve just barely missed Elizabeth at any point.”
She groaned and pulled herself to her feet. “Okay, let’s go. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can eat. I’m getting hungry.”
He grabbed her hand and tugged her behind him to the library and the study. When they were certain she wasn’t there, they searched the entirety of the house, including the attics and the old servants’ corridors this time, just to ensure they checked everywhere. They even asked Mille to keep Elizabeth with her should she happen to return without them.
Once they were convinced she wasn’t in the house, they returned to the grounds, deciding to work from the furthest point to the house. The squirrel told them off once again when they returned to the folly, but they ignored him and searched more thoroughly than they had the first time. The gardens closer to the house followed, but no matter where they looked, Elizabeth couldn’t be found.
They passed a few groundskeepers along the way, but none of them had seen Elizabeth either. This was ridiculous! No one could simply vanish into thin air! She had to be here!
Frustrated and extremely tired, they stopped after checking the front lawn one more time. Ellie turned and looked all around her while Tom ended a call to Millie on his mobile phone. “She hasn’t seen her.”
For the first time, Ellie became scared and worried. She again scanned the pond and the grounds around the house, finally letting her eyes go over every window of Pemberley’s façade. That was when her eye jerked to a movement on the roof. Something in her chest gave a lurch, and she ran closer and squinted.
“Do you see something?” asked Tom as he followed.
“There,” she said, pointing to a lone figure standing near the corner on the eastern most side. Based on the style of her dress and the bonnet she wore, she was definitely Elizabeth. She didn’t move and appeared to stare into the peaks, her arms wrapped around herself as the breeze billowed the shawl from her arms. “Now, how did she get up there?”
They found Elizabeth!! Now, how to get her back? And what on Earth is she doing on the roof? I’d love to hear your theories, suggestions, titles, etc below! I live for your comments, you know 🙂
Thanks for reading everyone!