This is one of my newest stories. It has been in the works for a while, but I am finally getting close to exposing who actually committed the murder.

Blurb: At the Netherfield Ball, Darcy and Elizabeth have learned more about each other and are coming close to realizing their hearts belong to each other. Unfortunately, Mr Collins is furious with what he is witnessing. After the supper, where Elizabeth and Darcy spent their time conversing about many things they had in common, Darcy has to leave Elizabeth momentarily. When he returns to find her, Elizabeth is discovered on the balcony with Mr Collins, who is attempting to instruct the second born Bennet daughter how she should behave, as he believes she is to be his wife. Before Darcy could prevent Collins, the toady parson has struck Elizabeth. Collins is held in a guest room at Netherfield, the doors to the room guarded, until they could summon a physician to determine if the man should be sent to an asylum or transported. The following morning, Collins is discovered murdered in the locked guest room. Who could have committed the murder?

Chapter 1

            Thomas Bennet was not pleased with the events of the evening to come. For days, all the master of Longbourn had heard was his wife and fidaughters speaking of the ball being held at Netherfield Park. They spoke of gowns, ribbons, lace, who they would partner with for each dance, and how the grand house of Netherfield would look.

            The estate of Netherfield Park had been let by Mr Charles Bingley. A young man of six and twenty, Mr Bingley was the son of a tradesman who had made a fortune and wished to raise his family to become part of the higher society of the landed gentry. Unfortunately, Bingley’s father had died before realizing his dream, leaving the task to his son to fulfill. With no knowledge of how to run an estate, Bingley followed the advice of his closest friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, in Derbyshire. Darcy had been trained from childhood how to run an estate, as he was the heir of Pemberley. When Darcy was one and twenty, his father passed away from a heart condition. His mother had passed when Darcy was two and ten, after having been thrown from her horse. Now, at age seven and twenty, there was only Darcy and his younger sister who was ten years his junior.

            Darcy and Bingley had met at Cambridge when they attended classes. By the time they graduated, they had become close friends. The only difficulty between the men was Bingley’s unmarried sister, Miss Caroline Bingley. The eldest of the Bingley siblings was Mrs Louisa Hurst. She and her husband had joined Caroline and Charles to Netherfield, where Caroline was to act as her brother’s hostess. Caroline Bingley was determined to become a part of the top circles of society; therefore, she had decided that the only man who would give her the access the social gatherings, the envy of all her friends, and extreme wealth, was to marry Fitzwilliam Darcy. She was on a mission to capture the man, no matter what it took. Her only problem lived three miles from Netherfield, in the home of Thomas Bennet. Namely, Mr Bennet’s eldest two daughters.

            Mr Bingley had fallen in love with the eldest of the Bennet daughters, Miss Jane Bennet. Frustratingly, Caroline had discovered a growing attraction that Mr Darcy was developing for the next Bennet sister, Miss Elizabeth. The longer they remained in the area, the greater the attraction for Eliza Bennet seemed to grow. But Caroline was not in a mood to see the country nobody steal Darcy from her.

            With the ball being held that day, and Mr Bingley asking for Miss Bennet to dance the first set, Mrs Bennet was beside herself with glee. The mistress of Longbourn, one of the largest estates in Hertfordshire, was determined to marry off all her daughters as soon as possible. Fanny Bennet had only given birth to daughters, which caused a great deal of agitation for the poor woman. Longbourn was entailed away from the female line, which meant that the estate would be inherited by Mr Bennet’s distant cousin, Mr William Collins.

            Mr Collins, a parson with the living of Hunsford, near the estate of Rosings Park, in Kent, was a bumbling fool of a man. Though Mr Bennet enjoyed laughing at the follies of others, Mr Collins had worn out his welcome at Longbourn. Between his foolishness, his worship of his benefactress, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and his completely disgusting manners, the sycophantic parson had grated on Mr Bennet’s nerves. 

            Having secured a set of dances from each of the Bennet sisters, Mr Collins was proud as a peacock with demanding the first set be with Elizabeth. Mrs Bennet had discouraged the man from casting his attention towards Jane, as the lady was certain Mr Bingley would soon be asking for Jane’s hand. A wealthy and amiable young man had far more value to the woman than having her husband’s heir settle down with the same daughter. So, Mr Collins had turned his attention towards Elizabeth, being next in beauty and age. Elizabeth wished for nothing more to do with her father’s cousin, avoiding him a much as possible. The foolish parson could not take the hint that his choice of bride could not tolerate him, in his mind he could not understand how anyone would not see him as a perfect catch.

            The parson did not realize how his relations found him, from his greasy hair combed over to cover a large bald spot to his rotund belly, his unwashed odor to his rambling nonsense of his superiority. To his way of thinking, his cousins could not hope for a better situation than for one of them to marry him. When their father was no longer living, Mr Collins would take possession of the estate and with one of the sisters as his bride, any unmarried daughters and their mother could remain living at Longbourn. Therefore, he wished for the best of them to be his wife.

            Mary, the third of the Bennet daughters, was plain in comparisons to her sisters. She was fond of reading scriptures and sermons, which would have made her the ideal sister to marry the parson. But Collins believed her to be beneath him due to her lack of beauty. The younger two sisters, Kitty and Lydia, were far too young and silly for Collins to even consider having as his wife. With Jane out of the question according to her mother, Collins had accepted his choice, having even spoken with Mrs Bennet, who encouraged the fool.

            This had made the days leading to the Netherfield Ball to be difficult trials for Thomas Bennet. Even in his private study, the gentleman could find no peace. Either his wife or Mr Collins constantly interrupted the master of Longbourn from reading his new book, giving him no peace.

            Finally, the time came to leave for the ball. Mr Bingley had been kind enough to send his carriage to convey the Bennet family and Mr Collins to the ball, allowing the ladies to have more room, as to not wrinkle their gowns by being packed all together in the Bennet carriage. Mr Bennet took his eldest three daughters in the Bingley carriage, leaving his wife to bring their youngest two girls and Mr Collins in their carriage. This arrangement did not sit well with either Collins or Mrs Bennet, as they felt Elizabeth should have ridden in the carriage with Mr Collins.

            Mr Bennet handed his daughters from the Bingley’s carriage and escorted them up the front steps of his neighbor’s grand house. In the receiving line was Mr Bingley, Miss Bingley, Mrs Hurst, Mr Hurst, with Mr Darcy waiting nearby.

            Bingley could not take his eyes from his angel. That was how he described Jane, an angel, with her golden tresses and bright blue eyes, her sweet smile and kindness that was known by all, Jane Bennet was angelic in many ways.

            Taking her hand, Bingley bowed over it. “Do not forget that you promised me the first set of the night, Miss Bennet.”

            Jane blushed. “I look forward to our dances, Mr Bingley.”

            “Do not forget to save the supper set for me as well.”

            “Of course, Mr Bingley.” Jane said as her cheeks reddened further. She could not believe her good fortune in the kindness of the young man. Her heart had already determined that she would never find another man she could love as much as she was coming to love Bingley.

            Caroline gushed praise over Jane’s gown while completely ignoring Elizabeth. Jealousy was not attractive on the woman, but she could not help despising the young lady she considered a rival for Darcy’s affections.

            As they made their way to the end of the receiving line, Mr Darcy approached Elizabeth. “Miss Elizabeth, I wished to ask for your first set.”

            Elizabeth had been disappointed, knowing her first set was promised to her odious cousin. “I am afraid I cannot give you the first, though I have no commitment for the second set.”

            “I will accept that set. Might I also take the chance to request the supper set as well? As compensation for not being able to have your first set of the ball.”

            A smile graced his lips, lightening his appearance and showing that the man had dimples. Elizabeth was mesmerized by the vision, as it made the handsome gentleman’s expression friendly and kind.

            “You may have the supper set as well, Mr Darcy, though I am certain you will cause the gossips at the ball to draw many conclusions at your requesting two sets. Are you sure that you are willing to accept that all in attendance will speculate an understanding between us?”

            Taking hold of Elizabeth’s hand, Darcy not only bowed over it, but he also placed a gentle kiss on the back of it. “I am willing to accept their speculation. You never know, it might not be speculation later.”

            It was Elizabeth’s turn to blush vividly. Darcy found the color in her cheeks only enhanced the young lady’s beauty.

            The sisters followed their father inside the beautiful ballroom. Netherfield had not looked so fine in over a decade, when the baronet who owned the estate had taken up living there. After the death of his beloved wife and only child in a carriage accident, the baronet could not bear to remain living at the estate. It had been five years since anyone had lived in the beautiful house.

            The music began playing in the ballroom, announcing to all that the dancing would soon commence. Bingley moved to the sisters, who had been speaking with their dear friend, Charlotte Lucas, collecting Jane to open the ball.

            Not long after, Mr Collins moved to lead Elizabeth to the dance floor. As the musicians prepared the opening song, Darcy could see the distress in Elizabeth’s expression. The gentleman was displeased with what he was witnessing. How he wished to march to the dancers and remove the young lady from the torture she was enduring. The dance proved the ridiculous man was incapable of performing even the simplest of dances without causing harm, as he stepped on Elizabeth’s feet many times in one set.

Chapter 2

            Fitzwilliam Darcy could not pick the exact moment when he fell in love with Elizabeth Bennet, he was in the middle before he realized his heart’s desire. Never, in all his seven and twenty years, had he met anyone like the young lady. Being one of the wealthiest men in England, owning a grand estate, his connections with the earl of Matlock, and being handsome, Fitzwilliam Darcy was a prime commodity on the marriage mart of the ton. Every single lady, and even some of the married ones, wished to capture the gentleman for themselves.

            But these ladies could never attract the young master of Pemberley. The gentleman was extremely shy, finding it difficult to converse with those with whom he was unfamiliar. He also despised the ladies who could not hold their own opinions in a conversation, instead speaking of things as they thought he would want. This was one of the things that had attracted Darcy to the second Bennet sister. Elizabeth was not afraid to speak her mind. She was educated and well read in many subjects, including history and science. Learning had been important to her and Mr Bennet could not deny his favorite daughter access to his books. They would often debate what they learned from the books and the papers. There was no other quite like the vivacious young lady.

            Where Jane was fair haired and demure, Elizabeth was outspoken, with chestnut brown hair which appeared to be barely contained by the pins holding the curls on top of her head. Her chocolate eyes held golden flecks in them, making her eyes dance with life.

            Darcy continued to watch the young lady who had captured his heart. Each misstep by Collins had brought Elizabeth pain and embarrassment. It made Darcy cringe and wish to protect her from the oaf.

            Finally, the set was finished and Mr Collins move to take Elizabeth back to her friend, Charlotte.

            Seeing his chance to claim Elizabeth from her cousin, Darcy stepped to the lady. “Miss Elizabeth, I have come to collect you for our set.”

            “Of course, Mr Darcy.” There was a look of relief in Elizabeth’s eyes as she spoke.

            Before they could move too far away, Mr Collins realized what Elizabeth had said. “Mr Darcy of Pemberley?”

            Darcy turned to the parson. “Yes I am.”

            “Well, you will be grateful to know that as of three days ago, I was in the presence of your esteemed and gracious aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her daughter, Miss Anne de Bourgh, and can report that they were in excellent health.”

            Though Darcy knew who the man was, they had not been formally introduced, so the gentleman decided to put the clergyman in his place. “We have not been introduced, so I find your behavior to be inappropriate. I received a letter from my aunt just yesterday and was assured of her and my cousin’s health. I do not require your unsolicited advice of my family members.”

            Shocked, Collins had a difficult time forming words, watching Darcy led Elizabeth to the dance floor.

            “Forgive my rudeness, Miss Elizabeth. That man is ridiculous, and I could not help but see that he was injuring you with all his missteps. Are you certain you are well enough to dance with me?”

            Giving a slight chuckle, Elizabeth nodded her head. “I am well, Mr Darcy. Only a few bumps and bruises, nothing worse. I thank you for your kindness.”

            “I wish to see you protected from such injuries. It must have been difficult to not have a way to escape the fool.” Darcy’s eyes took on a different appearance. His eyes were nearly black with the intensity.

            Elizabeth gasped. “Please accept my appreciation, Mr Darcy.”

            The music began and the dancers began moving to a waltz. The dance was considered to be controversial amongst the ton, but Caroline Bingley had planned the risqué dance as she had hoped to convince Darcy to dance the set with her. Discovering the gentleman had asked Eliza Bennet for the set infuriated Miss Bingley considerably. She could not tolerate her plans being ruined, especially as the gentleman was holding the country nobody in such an intimate manner.

            Watching the couple as they swirled about the dance floor was difficult for Caroline to accept. She knew that the only way to obtain what she desired, she would have to take matters in her own hands. Mr Darcy would be hers, not some chit from this unknown country.    

            The dance had been shocking, though Elizabeth could not have enjoyed it more. She and Darcy had shared conversation, aiding in curbing the nervousness she felt. They had such a pleasant time, neither wished for the set to end. But end it did. Reluctantly Darcy turned over Elizabeth to her next dance partner, Charlotte Lucas’ brother, John. As he watched them dancing, Caroline Bingley crept up to stand beside him.

            “I bet I can guess what you are thinking at this moment, Mr Darcy.”

            “Doubtful, Miss Bingley.” Darcy had reverted behind what his family referred to as his mask of indifference.

            “You are likely thinking how abominable it is to suffer through a ball with so many lowly people. Just look at them, not a single gown that is in fashion. The music is tolerable, though I am shocked that Charles chose to have a waltz. Surprising that any of the locals knew how to dance such a scandalous set.”

            “Miss Elizabeth explained that the last time Miss Lucas and her family were in London, they learned the steps. When they returned home, Miss Lucas taught the dance to many in the area. I must say, it is quite invigorating with the correct partner.”

            “I saw that you took pity on Miss Eliza. Now that you have done your duty to my brother, you are free to dance where your heart desires the remainder of the time tonight.” Caroline was growing desperate.

            Darcy thought of the coming sets of dances until he would once again be paired with Elizabeth. Until that time, he would keep watch over her from the side of the room. It was clear that she was enjoying herself, though Darcy did not detect the sparkle in her eyes that he had seen when she danced with him. He hoped that it meant Elizabeth was as much in love with him as Darcy was with her. The thought of years being married to such a lady, raising children together, growing old together, while watching the joy in the lady’s expression, brought a sense of completement to the gentleman.

            The supper set was announced, much to Darcy’s pleasure. He collected his dance partner, against the protests of Mr Collins, who claimed that such behavior would be frowned upon by Lady Catherine. Darcy ignored the man, leading Elizabeth to the dance floor once again.

            When the set ended, the guests were shown to the dining room, where they were all excited to partake in the delightful food that was served.

            Darcy and Elizabeth found themselves completely absorbed in their conversation, forgetting everyone around them. He was grateful for the time to know her better, as his feeling continued to grow with each passing moment. The more he discovered about Elizabeth Bennet, the more convinced he was that she would be his perfect match.

            When they finally prepared to leave the dining room, Darcy excused himself to use the necessary room. Elizabeth entered the ballroom and had moved towards the doors leading to the balcony. She suddenly felt a hand take hold of her upper arm, forcing her outside and into the dark corner furthest from the door.

            Turning around, Elizabeth discovered Mr Collins was the person grasping her arm. “Let me go. You have no right to treat me so.”

            “I have every right, as your intended. How dare you insult me with your behavior?” Mr Collins was furious. He lifted his other hand, bringing it down across Elizabeth’s cheek.

            The sting of the blow confused Elizbeth. “What do you mean, my intended? I have no recollection of any proposal, and even if you had, I would have refused your offer.”

            “Your mother approved of the marriage and gave me her blessing. There is no need for any further discussion.”

            “My mother does not have the right to give you permission to marry me. Only my father does. My father will not approve of such a marriage, as he knows I would not accept any offer from you.” Elizabeth attempted to break free of her captor’s grip.

            Collins struck her again, across her cheek. “How dare you behave so disgustingly. You will be my wife, and you had best learn to treat me with the respect I deserve. As your husband, you will not be allowed to disregard my decisions. There will be no discussions, you will obey me or suffer the consequences. Do I make myself understood?”

            Elizabeth shook her head rather than agreeing with the deranged man. “I do not answer to you and I will never be your wife. There is nothing you can do or say to change my mind.”

            “Do you believe that you will win the hand of Mr Darcy? The man is betrothed to his cousin. He would make you his mistress, not his wife.” Collins gave an evil laugh.

            “You are wrong. Just as you are wrong about you being engaged to me. You only wish to hurt me because you cannot have your own way.”

            Collins’ hand contacted with Elizabeth’s face once again. “Do not ever contradict me again. How dare you make a fool of your intended? It is not to be borne. There is no reason for me to lie to you. Mr Darcy has been betrothed to Miss Anne de Bourgh of Rosings Park. Their engagement is of an unusual nature, as they were promised since birth to one another. It was the greatest wish of both of their mothers.”

            Elizabeth could feel blood on her cheek and on her split lip. The pain was difficult, though the pain was nothing in comparison to the thought that Mr Darcy had not been truthful with regards to his future.

            “You will marry me, as soon as possible. Do you understand what I am saying? Once we are married, we will live at the parsonage in Hunsford. Lady Catherine will advise you on your behavior, aiding in your education of how to be a parson’s wife. If you do not follow the rules I set for you, you will be punished.” As if to punctuate his words, struck her several times before his hand came down, grasping the fabric of her decolletage and tearing it downwards.

            Gasping at the behavior of her father’s cousin, many things ran through her mind. The top of the list was that she was now ruined. If she did not marry Mr Collins, her family would be ruined, including her beloved Jane. But there was nothing that could induce her to marry such a man.