Mr. Darcy enjoys a voyeuristic moment as he spies upon his wife in her bath. Oneshot. COMPLETE.
Without exception, his wife teased him for even the little extravagances he brought back from his trips to London on business, whether it was a book, a ribbon, or a phaeton and a pair of ponies. The man Darcy had been would never admit what he now knew-- that he secretly reveled in her mischievous tweaking of his dignity as much as he enjoyed presenting her with what he had chosen.
Thinking of Elizabeth made him all the more eager to be back, to see that moment when the trees parted and the golden columns of Pemberley rose above the hill, the sun glinting a dazzling white off the water. Touching his waistcoat pocket one last time to ensure the pearls were still there, he urged his mount to a gallop. His neighbors had grown accustomed to the sight of Pemberley's master tearing along the road from Lambton.
Handing his mount to the groomsmen and hastening inside and up the grand stairs, Darcy shed his jacket as soon as he entered his personal chambers. A fire already burned in the hearth and the sun was sinking fast over the horizon, slanting through the windows all rose and dusky-gold. Darcy was well acquainted with his wife's daily schedule, and there was no time to waste. His footsteps quickened, crossing one room, then another.
The door to the third room stood ever so slightly ajar and he paused, hand silent upon it. From beyond was the musical sound of water splashing on marble, the low hum of a woman singing contentedly. Loosening his cravat, the master of Pemberley eased the door further open, enough to look inside.
"Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth..." he murmured, too quietly to be heard.
Her linen shift was the first thing he saw, filmy white draped over the back of a folding screen painted with a pair of cranes in flight. It came all the way from the Far East, a delicate thing of rosewood and rice paper that did more to adorn the room than it did for the advancement of modesty.
With a faint exhalation of regret, Darcy saw that he was a little too late. Elizabeth had nearly completed her nightly ablutions and all the soap was rinsed from her hair, which now lay wet and gleaming down her back. On another day, he might have joined her, combing his fingers through the damp strands and breathing in the soft scent of rosewater at the nape of her neck. Had he been discovered that evening, the scandal would have been the talk of all Derbyshire.
From his vantage point, he could see her hand resting on the edge of the bath, the tops of her shoulders as she leaned back, still singing to herself. A tiny vial sat on a table near the basin, she removed the stopper and poured out a drop on her finger. The air filled with the scent of almonds. His wife smoothed the fragrant oil over her skin, tipping back her head and trailing a finger down her throat, then lower to dip in the valley of her breasts. At the door, Darcy nearly stopped breathing, he could only watch... and listen. A smaller splash then as her hands slipped below the water's surface. The song momentarily stilled into a sigh and Darcy wiped his damp face with his shirtsleeve. Tiny droplets of sweat had formed on his upper lip. They tasted of the sea.
He kept a keen ear out for the first footstep of his wife's maid, but she did not come. There was considerable risk, for here there was no place he could hide. If found, he might be pressed to sacrifice all dignity and take to his heels like a schoolboy caught raiding the apple orchard. Darcy did not relish the thought at all, but nothing in the world would induce him to move.
In a moment the humming began anew, and his rapt attention was directed once more to the cracked door. Elizabeth had tired of waiting for her maid, and now she gathered her hair to the top of her head in one deft twist, wringing the water from it as she rose. Darcy steadied himself on the door jamb, resting his forehead against the crook of his arm.
It was spring and her complexion had yet to take on the tawny blush that came with time spent out of doors, the color so recently despised by ladies of higher birth but meaner sensibility. He shook his head at the memory, but it did not distract him. His Elizabeth was beyond compare, in more ways than what could be measured in the public eye.
Elizabeth's skin was like milk, from the graceful sweep of her back to the turn of her ankle. She reached for the stack of fresh linens near the bath and water trickled down the sweet curve of her breasts, beading upon the coral peaks of her nipples. Without thinking, Darcy's fingers fumbled at the top buttons of his collar, the air had suddenly grown too close for comfort.
But it was a glimpse, nothing more. Already the shift was slipping over her shoulders, snug about her slender waist. Later she would comb out her long, dark hair before the fire, turn those bright eyes upon him in a way that always made Darcy catch his breath no matter how many times he'd seen it. It was the best part of his day, and he guarded such moments with great jealousy.
Almost as if she could hear his thoughts, Elizabeth smiled, slow and full of mischief. She bent to retrieve a comb, letting her shift slip to bare first a shoulder, then a coy flash of creamy-skinned thigh.
"Little minx..." he whispered. Did she know?
A soft footfall sounded in the hallway, and Darcy swiftly withdrew back to his own rooms, shutting the door silently behind him. He struggled with the windows and levered one open, letting the cool night air flow over his heated body. It was foolish, perhaps, to concern himself with what the servants would think. But there was Elizabeth's reputation to think of, nothing would ever taint or tarnish her name if Darcy could prevent it.
Shrugging out of his waistcoat and undoing his cuffs, he threw himself down on the bed. The man he had been cared very much for things like rank and respectability, so much that he had almost lost the means to his greatest happiness. Remembering the purpose of his trip, Darcy jerked upright, then heaved a slight sigh of relief when he found the pearl strand still safely tucked in a pocket. He sat down again on the edge of the bed and took it out, letting the pearls wash against one another briefly in the palm of his hand, smooth as river-stones.
You would do better to keep on your guard rather than lose yourself in fantasies, Darcy thought ruefully. Letting one priceless treasure after another nearly slip through one's fingers is careless, indeed.
Two rooms away, he could hear the gentle murmuring of women's voices drawing closer. His wife would join him soon and he would put the pearls around her neck, closing the clasp with a kiss before blowing out the candle. The thought made his limbs feel heavy with anticipation, as if honey flowed through his veins.
Changed or not, Darcy was not a man of idle thought and it occurred to him that it was of little import if he lost the pearls, his estate, or indeed his entire fortune so long as he retained the one thing that mattered to him the most.
He closed his eyes and waited for Elizabeth.