Meet Theo Darcy

The Darcy Brothers

 

Chapter 1

 

“So tell me again, why am I going to Rosings?” Theophilus Darcy stretched his long legs across the floorboards of the traveling coach until his feet were not quite touching his brother’s impeccably polished boots.

Fitzwilliam Darcy grunted and shifted in his seat until his feet were free once more.

Theo grinned. So predictable. Why did he take so much pleasure in this?

Darcy clamped his jaws together and swallowed back his sharp words. Theo would not provoke him to intemperate speech, not today. Not again.

He drew a deep breath, savoring the fragrance of the newly refreshed leather upholstery. He would never admit it to his brother, but he delighted in the scent. Simple, elegant, and made to last, exactly as it should be.

“I asked you a question, Brother dear.” Theo tapped his boot against Darcy’s.

Darcy jumped. “Stop that. There is plenty of room in this coach without you crowding me.”

Theo chuckled and pulled back just enough that Darcy would have to concede he complied, but not an inch further. “So touchy. Always have been, as I remember. You never liked sharing a seat with me, even when we were children.” He tapped Darcy’s boot again.

How was it Theo never acted his age? Now six and twenty, he displayed less decorum than Bingley or even Georgiana. Would he never behave as a responsible gentleman ought? He was finally a barrister in his own standing now. How would he ever gain the confidence of the solicitors who would bring business his way when he continued to play the role of an ill-bred adolescent?

Darcy stared at the side glass. His brother’s reflection stared back at him. Theo was a handsome fellow, with a ready smile and easy manner, much like Wickham’s. Darcy’s stomach churned. No wonder he found it so easy to make friends.

Theo’s reflection grinned as he twitched his eyebrows into the expression he knew most rankled Darcy’s nerves. Blast and botheration! Could a man not even enjoy the scenery on a long journey? This would be a long three days indeed.

“I ask you again, why am I going to Rosings?”

 Darcy huffed and the side glass fogged. “Apparently, to punish me by making this trip as unpleasant as possible.”

Theo barked out a full-bellied laugh. “Oh, I have not even begun. If that is my purpose, then I must apply myself more whole-heartedly to the task.” He slid down in the seat and parked his feet on the squabs beside Darcy.

Now he was going to scuff the new seat covers! Darcy swept Theo’s feet off. Boot heels thudded on the floor boards. “Enough!”

“Then answer me.”

“We are going to Rosings because Aunt Catherine expects us. We have a duty to her as family. She requires assistance in instructing her Steward and land managers and relies upon Pemberley to provide such assistance.”

“That is why you are going. I—as you know—know next to nothing about estate management, and if she needs contracts drawn up, a broker for another mortgage or an arbitrator for her disputes with her local tradesmen, she requires a solicitor, not my services. There is simply no need for me to be here.”

“We have a family duty to call upon her.”

You might. But I do not. Have you forgotten she cannot stand the sight of me?”

“Who is responsible for that?”

Theo rolled his eyes. “It is not my fault the Old Bat has no sense of humor.”

“Old Bat? That is how you refer to our aunt? Such disrespect—”

“You cannot tell me you have not thought the self-same thing. Just because you are too proud to admit to your baser feelings—”

“Proud? You consider self-control and good manners marks of pride? No wonder you cannot be permitted in polite company! You give offense—”

I give offense?” Theo leaned forward and planted his elbows on his knees. He laced his fingers and balanced his chin on his hands. “No, you have it quite reversed, dear Brother. You are the one who gives offense wherever you go.”

Darcy’s eyes bulged, and he coughed back the ungentlemanly invectives.

“Why else would one Fitzwilliam Darcy keep company with one of the nouveau riche? Bingley is a jolly fellow, I grant you, but he is decidedly below you. Not only that, but apparently he is unable to control your offensive nature any better than the rest of us. I recall hearing that in Hertfordshire—”

“You are in no position to criticize my friends.” Darcy snorted. Hertfordshire was not a topic to be discussed with Theo. “Hypocrisy does not become you.”

“Hypocrisy?”

“My friends look to me for insight and advice. Yours seek you for money.”

“That is not hypocrisy. I call it generosity, of which I have been the beneficiary in the past. I am only too happy to return the favor in equal measure. One never knows when one might be in need of a generous friend or three.”

Stubborn, foolish, maddening…would he never see? “Need I remind you, my friends never had me sent down from school?”

“Wickham and I—”

Darcy lifted his hand. “Stop. I have heard this far too many times. No more excuses. Why can you not accept responsibility for what you did and be grateful I was able to persuade the Governors to reinstate you? Without that—”

“Yes, yes, I know, Prince William.” Theo flourished his hand between them and bowed from his shoulders. “Without your timely intervention, your stellar reputation, and a generous quantity of your blunt, I would never have graduated. Without your pull and your support, I would never have attended those three years at the Inns of Court. You forget however that it was I who applied myself—”

“To socializing and revelry and cards—”

“With the most notable barristers at those dinners, who have in turn set me up with connections to solicitors—”

“With whom you would never have contact, except that I pay your Bloomsbury rent.”

“What do you want me to say? That I owe all my gentlemanly standing to you?”

“You mean to tell me you would rather I withdraw—”

“No, just acknowledge I could indeed have made my way without you.”

Darcy leaned back, arms crossed tightly over his chest. “And what exactly would you have done?”

“I could have done very well for myself in the army.”

“I suppose you could have scraped together the four hundred pounds for a commission in the infantry, but where would you come up with the money to rank up? Or would you be content to spend your life as a lowly Ensign?”

“Which would not have been nearly smart enough for you. Your pride could not tolerate the possibility that I might fail to distinguish myself. You had to dictate—”

“I have never dictated—”

“You dictated I accompany you to Rosings. You know I hate it there, and Aunt Catherine hates having me.”

Darcy grumbled deep in his throat.

“You do not trust me.”

If he clamped his teeth any harder, Darcy feared one might crack. Yet, if he did not, there was a very real risk he might finally speak his mind.

“What, no response?” Theo laughed, a coarse, derisive sound. “I must be correct. You always refuse to engage me when I am right.”

No, this cheap ploy to bait him into conversation was not going to work. Darcy turned to face the side glass, even if it meant he still stared into Theo’s smug reflection.

“You could have left me behind at Pemberley easily enough. Or have you forgotten I am quite used to keeping my own establishment? Georgiana and I would have been perfectly fine on our own at home, without you.”

“Not after Ramsgate.” Darcy muttered through clenched teeth.

“So that is what this is all about? I have already told you—”

“Enough.”

“Yes, your Highness.” Theo bowed, this time touching his head to his knees.

Darcy rapped on the ceiling and jumped from the coach before it had stopped moving.

In just a few moments, his horse was readied and their journey resumed. At last, relief from Theo’s mindless droning and constant needling. He had been too much in Wickham’s company no doubt, and had picked up some of that rake’s worst traits.

At least that was finally at an end now. Not that Theo had much use for Wickham anymore, but still, the cad was safely away from the entire Darcy family and things were finally as they should be.

Now all Darcy had to do was forget one Elizabeth Bennet, and his world would once again be set completely to rights. He huffed out a heavy breath and resettled in his saddle. His horse shook his head and glanced back at him. Darcy clucked his tongue and his mount returned to his walk.

How did one young lady—one bewitching, maddening, enticing young lady—manage to discompose him so? She crept into his thoughts when he least expected. Each book he picked up, he wondered if she had read it and what her pert—or impertinent—opinions might be on it. Each trail he walked, he wondered if it would be to her liking. Each time he heard tell of an assembly or ball, he cringed, remembering again his ungentlemanly words spoken in the hearing of a young woman who was well worth pleasing.

He winced, those fateful words echoing again in his mind. …not handsome enough to tempt me… How could he have said something not only so ungracious, but so utterly and completely untrue? Surely those words would haunt him until his dying day.

Darcy had to get her out of his head. Time with his Aunt Catherine—and cousin, Anne—was just the tonic to do it. How could a woman like Anne exist in the same world that contained an Elizabeth Bennet? The two were unalike in every imaginable way.

Lady Catherine still expected him to marry Anne.

He gulped back the bitter tang coating his tongue, the same one he always tasted whenever his aunt brought up the topic of marriage. How would he disabuse her of the notion he would marry according to her will?

Perhaps he could recommend his brother as a fitting substitute. That would insure Theo a secure source of income if he failed as a barrister, which he might do simply to vex Darcy.

But Theo was right—Lady Catherine barely tolerated him and that only for Darcy and Georgiana’s sake. She could never accept him as a son. Blast and botheration.

A cold raindrop hit his nose. He glanced over his shoulder. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon, whipped together by a chill wind. The next posting station should be close, maybe a quarter of a mile off. Perhaps—

Thunder cracked. Heavy, cold drops pelted his face. Perhaps not.