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Richard eyed Bingley and Darcy suspiciously. “And who might that be?”
“Wickham,” said Darcy.
Richard muttered and took a gulp of his drink.
“Bingley’s neighbour has five daughters, and he is concerned for their safety.” Darcy felt his ears warm at the half-truth. It was not only Bingley who wished to see to the safety of the Bennets.
“Five daughters?” Richard whistled softly. “And would one of these be your new angel?” he asked Bingley. “You do still find an angel in every town, do you not?”
“If things go well,” Darcy answered before Bingley could, “I think this may be Bingley’s last angel.”
Richard let out another slow whistle. “She must be quite the lady.”
Bingley grinned, completely undaunted by Richard’s teasing tone. “She is,” he said, “and she has four sisters that need protection from Wickham.”
Richard tipped his head and looked from Bingley to Darcy and back. “Your angel has been seen in company with you and Darcy?”
Bingley nodded. “As have certain of her sisters.” Bingley winked slyly at Richard.
Darcy groaned inwardly as he shook his head. Of course, Bingley would not keep that information to himself.
Richard’s brows rose as an impish grin spread across his face. “Has my cousin singled out any sister in particular?”
“Yes, your cousin has,” Darcy answered. There seemed no need try to deny it. Richard would know the truth and to tell him directly was better than to be taunted by both is cousin and Bingley. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
“Miss Bennet’s next youngest sister,” Bingley added.
Richard rubbed his knuckles against his jaw. “And Wickham knows this?”
Darcy nodded. “I believe so. Therefore, we have decided that Bingley will inform Miss Bennet that Wickham is not to be trusted with the hope that she will then impart this information to her sisters; although, I am not sure the information will be immediately accepted by all.” He shifted in his seat. “Bingley thought that perhaps you could inform Colonel Forester of Wickham’s penchant for cards and women. He has been in the area long enough to have accrued a fair amount of debt. This would go a long way in helping me refute the stories that I am sure he has been spreading about me.”
Richard blew out a breath. “Miss Elizabeth believes Wickham?”
Darcy nodded slowly. He wished it was not true, but it was.
“Which means she is set against you, and you are besotted with her enough to consider going against familial duty.” Richard surmised.
“I would not say besotted,” retorted Darcy.
“I would,” Bingley muttered.
Richard threw back his head and laughed. “It is about time.”
“Why were you looking for me tonight?” Darcy asked before Richard could continue down a road that Darcy was certain he did not wish to have traversed.
Richard lifted his glass. “A drink, a game of billiards, some conversation, and a comfortable bed.”
Darcy’s lips twitched. “There are beds at Matlock House that are quite comfortable. In fact, there is one there reserved for you.”
“There is also one at Darcy House.” He consumed what remained in his glass. “However, your home lacks one thing that my parents’ house does not.”
“Your mother?” Darcy asked with a grin.
“Precisely. I have no desire to hear her concerns regarding my lack of a wife.” He placed his glass on the table next to Darcy’s and lay a hand on his cousin’s shoulder for a moment. “If you will forget family expectations and for once pursue your own happiness, then, I might be inspired to do the same, and my mother will be delighted.”
He continued as Darcy rose from his chair, ready to take his leave, “Do you know how many times I have heard Father and Mother speaking about how they wish to see you happy?” Richard chuckled as Darcy shook his head. “Neither do they, but it is a great number, to be sure. They will be pleased for you. It is only Aunt Catherine who might pose an issue. But then, when is she not posing an issue?”
Darcy and Bingley both chuckled along with Richard. Lady Catherine was known for voicing her opinion about many things quite loudly, and the more her opinion was ignored, as it often was by her brother, the more vocal she would become until eventually, her arguments would expire in a huff.
“It is not only Lady Catherine about whom you need worry,” said Bingley. “I have a sister who is not easily dissuaded and is intent on securing Pemberley.”
Richard shook his head. “Is she still at that?”
“Stubborn, is she not?” Bingley said as he nodded his answer to Richard’s question.
“Extremely,” Darcy muttered.
Richard clapped him on the shoulder. “We should take our leave unless you wish to encounter her tonight.”
“You will contact Colonel Forrester?” Bingley asked as they moved into the corridor.
“I will send him a letter tomorrow, and I am certain Darcy will see that it travels by express?”
Darcy rolled his eyes. If there was one thing that Richard was good at, aside from his role as colonel, it was weaseling out of extra expenditures. For one who had grown up in a house filled with plenty, he had a strong miserly bent as well as an eye for investment to increase his holdings. A strategic mind, he called it and said it was what made him proficient in his profession.
“I will call for you tomorrow before I head toward Cheapside to call on Miss Bennet,” Bingley said to Darcy as they reached the front door.
“Cheapside?” Richard whistled low. “You do mean to disappoint the family.” He laughed and slapped his cousin on the back.
“It is where her uncle lives. She is a gentleman’s daughter,” Darcy argued.
Richard moved down the steps briskly and prepared to mount his horse. “You may tell me all her excellent qualities over a game of billiards.” He swung up into his saddle and with a salute was off.
“You know you will have to tell him everything, do you not?” Bingley asked.
Darcy nodded. Along with having a miserly streak, Richard Fitzwilliam was also persistent, and much like a starving dog might latch onto a piece of meat and refuse to let go, if there was something that Darcy’s cousin wished to know, he was going to discover it using whatever means he could. “As long as he lends his help, I will bare my very soul.”
“Thank you,” Bingley said as Darcy climbed into his carriage, “for telling me about Miss Bennet’s call and all.”
Darcy leaned forward in his seat so that he could see out the door to where his friend stood. “It is I who should thank you — first, for not tossing me out and then, for helping me to see reason.”
“My happiness could not be complete without yours,” Bingley said. “And I promise you, we will find ourselves happy, in spite of my sister.”