Happy Saturday! I hope you enjoy this next installment of An Unexpected Harvest.
Sunday, December 19th
“You can still come to Pemberley. My mom would be more than happy to take care of you.”
Charles lightly traced the bandage that covered the twelve stitches near his left temple. “No offense—your mom is great, but she’d drive me crazy. Thanks anyway.”
Charles was sitting on the edge of a bed in the emergency room of Fairview Hospital, where he’d been for the past eight hours. It was now almost six o’clock, and although the physician was hesitant to let him go, he relented when Charles threatened to walk out the door with or without his consent.
Caroline appeared and pulled the curtain aside before lifting a duffel bag onto the bed. “I think this is everything you need. Clothes, bathroom stuff, the paperwork you wanted, your laptop, and chargers.” She frowned. “I feel like a rotten sister, not taking care of you myself.”
“It’s fine. I’d have to climb a flight of stairs to get to your apartment, and you only have one bedroom. Plus you’re way too busy with work. Jane has a spare bedroom on the first floor and she’s home a lot, so it makes sense for me to stay with her.” He turned to Will. “Thanks for coming with Caroline, by the way. Jane wanted to stay longer, but I felt bad that she deserted Elizabeth.”
“No problem. When do the stitches come out?”
“In a week.”
Will nodded toward the crutches propped against the bed. “And how long are you on those for?”
“I don’t know. I’m just glad it’s only a bad sprain and work is a little slow this week because of Christmas. The doctor said they can put me in one of those walking boots as soon as the swelling goes down.” Charles’s phone buzzed with an incoming text, and read it over and quickly sent a reply. “That was Jane, I told her we were just waiting for my discharge instructions.”
By the time Charles was seated in Caroline’s car, he looked green. “Oh man, I feel like shit.”
Caroline reached over and patted his knee. “Hang in there, it’s a short ride. I’ll try to avoid the bumps.”
“Want some company tomorrow?” Will asked from the back seat. “If Jane doesn’t mind, I’ll come by in the morning. Maybe if you’re feeling up to it, you can show me the plans for her house.”
Charles nodded slightly. “Yeah, that sounds good. Can you go to Daily Bread and grab coffee and muffins or something for everyone? My treat.”
Will frowned. He knew he’d get a ribbing from Sky the moment he walked through the door. “Sure. From what I’ve heard, Jane is a big fan of the scones.”
As promised, Will showed up at ten o’clock the following morning with a dozen scones and four piping hot coffees. Jane greeted him and he teased her, saying she was probably happier to see the box in his hands than she was to see him.
He glanced around appreciatively as she led him further into the house. “This is a beautiful house, Jane.”
He’d immediately noticed the impressive stonework outside, and although there was an ample layer of snow covering the ground, he was sure the front yard was professionally landscaped. The interior was nicely decorated, with lots of bare wood and warm tones, but it was in need of some updating.
“Thanks. Charlie should be out shortly. Would you like a quick tour while we wait?”
“Sure.” He set the coffee and scones on a small table in the living room and followed Jane up the stairs.
Ten minutes later they returned, and he walked to the large window that overlooked the backyard, his eyes following the sloping lines of the Berkshire Mountains in the distance. “Wow. Great view.”
Jane came to stand next to him. “It’s something I’d like to take advantage of. I want to put an entire bank of windows here with a nice sitting area. I think it would work.”
“Definitely.” He spied the piano in the corner of the room and nodded toward it. “Do you play?”
“We all took lessons, but my sister Lydia is the only one who stuck with it. She plays very well.”
“And where is Lydia?”
“She lives in Boston. Cambridge, actually. She’s a sophomore at Harvard.”
The unmistakable thump and shuffle of a person on crutches came from down the hall, and they both turned toward it. It was then Will noticed Elizabeth sitting at a large table in the next room, which looked to be a formal dining area. Her eyes were glued to the laptop in front of her, and when she happened to glance up he quickly looked away.
“Hey,” Charles said.
Will turned to face him. “Hey, how’s it going? How’re you feeling?”
“Sore as hell, but I’m all right.”
Jane smiled at her patient sympathetically. “I had to wake him every few hours during the night because of the concussion, so I’m afraid he didn’t get much sleep.”
“Can you hang out for a bit?” Charles asked Will.
“Sure. I have to take my father to an appointment later, but I’ve got some free time.”
“I have some of the designs for Longbourn, and I’ve been roughing out your greenhouse.”
Will’s eyebrows rose. “My greenhouse?”
Charles made his way toward the couch and sat down heavily, laying the crutches on the floor next to him. “Yeah. You mentioned you wanted to build one, so I’ve been fooling around with some designs.”
“That’s great. I’d love to see them.”
“Can you grab my laptop? I think Jane put it on the dining room table.”
“Why don’t we relax first? Work can wait.” Jane turned toward the dining room. “Lizzy, come on out. Will brought scones and coffee.”
Elizabeth grunted.While out on her morning walk, she’d been struck by a bolt of inspiration for a new client’s campaign, and she’d returned to Longbourn with ideas filling her head. She was finally in the groove, and she didn’t want to stop. But she knew Farmer Darcy was there, she’d heard him and seen him, and she didn’t want to be rude. Again. Sighing, she rose from the table and walked into the living room.
Will glanced at her and nodded. “Elizabeth.”
“Good morning.” Her eyes lit on the coffee. “Are those all the same?”
He walked toward the table. “All house blend.”
“Let me get some cream and sugar,” Jane offered, and headed into the kitchen.
“Charlie, how do you take yours?” Elizabeth asked.
Charles peered over his shoulder at her. “Black is fine.”
She removed a cup from the tray and carried it over to him. “Would you like a scone?”
“Sure, I’d love one. But you don’t have to wait on me, I can get it myself.”
“Don’t be silly, I’ll get it.”
“Thanks.” He turned to Will. “Hey, this is supposed to be my treat. What do I owe you?”
Will waved his hand. “Nothing, forget about it.”
“God forbid someone try to buy you a coffee,” Elizabeth mumbled.
“What was that?” Will asked her quietly.
“Pardon?” She kept her eyes on the scones and chose one for Charles.
“What did you just say?”
Jane came back into the room then carrying a small tray that held plates, napkins, a creamer and a sugar bowl and set it on the table.
Elizabeth placed a scone onto a plate and handed it to Jane. “This is for Charlie, he already has his coffee.”
Jane thanked her sister and took a coffee and a scone for herself, and then headed over to the couch to join Charles.
Elizabeth eyed Will. Why does he have to be so damned tall? “I’m sorry, what was your question?”
“If you have something to say, just say it,” he grumbled.
I said, God forbid someone try to buy Farmer Darcy a coffee. She smiled brightly. “I just said thank you for the coffee and scones. That’s all.”
His eyes bored into hers, and he forced a smile in return. “You’re welcome. It’s the least I could do.”
Elizabeth was back at the dining room table thirty minutes later, staring blankly at her laptop. She couldn’t focus, not since she’d stopped for that impromptu coffee break. They’d made small talk, though she’d said very little. Charlie had laid out some of his plans for Longbourn on the coffee table and the two men sat side-by-side, discussing every detail.
More than once, she’d been alarmed to catch herself staring at Farmer Darcy. During their few short and spirited discussions, she’d never really just looked at him, beyond his annoyingly impressive height and those intensely dark eyes. Jane was right—he was handsome in a rugged, unshaven, woodsy kind of way, but was the polar opposite of Colin and every other man she’d ever dated.
And every time she did look at him, her eyes were invariably drawn to his boots. They were fascinating; beat up, scuffed and scarred and almost completely worn out. Her eyes had traveled up his long legs, clad unsurprisingly in worn denim, and then further up his torso, over his shirt and its green plaid pattern.
This is his suit. Colin wears Brooks Brothers, Farmer Darcy wears…this.
When her gaze had finally wandered to his face, his eyes were bright and fastened to hers, his expression a carefully drawn blank. She’d quickly looked away, and after thanking him again for the coffee and scones—this time with more sincerity—she’d excused herself.
And so here she sat, pretending to work and instead perusing Pinterest, as her creative juices had temporarily run dry. She could hear snippets of conversation from the other room, and knowing her mojo was gone for now, she sighed and closed her laptop.
She wandered back into the living room and stood at the back window, staring out at the beautiful scenery. Longbourn’s backyard was enormous and perfectly flat, making it a popular place to play when she and her sisters were younger. She remembered the small barn and paddock that stood to the west side of the property, where they’d kept their ponies. As the sisters grew older they’d had less time to devote to riding, and so the ponies were given to a nearby farm and the barn and paddock were torn down. Numerous bonfires had been held here over the years, as well as snowball fights and countless games of football, soccer and wiffle ball, played with friends and schoolmates.
Having the Berkshires as a backdrop to her youth was something she’d been used to, almost to the point of being indifferent to it. But after living in the city for so long she realized she missed it, and it made her appreciate the view that much more. Especially today, with the sky a dazzling blue and the sun reflecting brightly off the snow. It was untouched and pristine and almost begging for someone to come along and trample it with snow boots and sleds.
Sighing, she rested her forehead to the cool glass and touched it lightly with her fingertips.
The days of playing in the snow are long gone.
Will was trying to focus on the plans spread out in front of him, but he was acutely aware of the woman standing by the window. He hadn’t seen her walk back into the room but knew she was there; her quiet footsteps had given her away.
The way she’d been looking at him earlier had completely disrupted his concentration. He’d never met someone who could so easily convey contempt and derision through a single glance. She’d seemed fixated on his boots, and he knew just what she’d been thinking—she’d made it all too clear at the barn dance, and her perusal of him just a little while ago only reinforced her words.
But despite acknowledging how unappealing she was on several levels, he couldn’t help but notice that on one level, at least, she was veryappealing. He attributed this to being a man, one who’d been without female companionship for a long time, and so he couldn’t really fault himself for noticing.
Her dark hair was tied in a ponytail, and she wore sweat pants and an oversized Boston University sweatshirt, which did nothing to emphasize the curves she had hidden underneath. In fact it did the exact opposite, transforming her into a shapeless blob. But he’d already seen said curves, knew they were there, and knew they were pretty damn fine.
After she’d said whatever she’d said under her breath…she’d briefly nibbled her bottom lip, and his eyes were immediately drawn to it. Despite his annoyance, he’d made the distracted observation that it was full and nicely curved, part of a perfect pair.
But it was her eyes that drew him in. Ever since their little showdown at the bakery, their green color had flitted in and out of his mind at the most random moments. If only she didn’t have the personality of a wet rock; that long, lingering glance she’d given him a little while ago might have set his blood simmering for other reasons.
But no amount of physical beauty would be enough to make him overlook what was glaringly obvious: the woman was a shrew. She seemed to like Charles, though he wondered if her feelings were genuine or if she held him—a lowly construction worker—in the same regard that she held farmers. Charles’s voice broke into his thoughts.
“What do you think, Will?”
“What do I think…about what?”
“Where’d you go? We were talking about the farm.”
Charles chuckled and looked at him oddly. “Yeah, that would be the one.”
“Charlie mentioned you’ve almost completed your organic certification,” Jane said. “Can we talk more about that sometime?”
“Sure. What do you want to know?”
“I want to buy local. Charlie already recommended a good butcher in town, so my next task was to search for an organic farm. Charlie says Pemberley is the best.”
Will grinned. “He’s a little biased. You sure you can trust him?”
She glanced at Charles and smiled. “Yes, I think so.”
“I’m not certified yet, but I hope to be soon. I’m sure we can work something out. You’re more than welcome to come and visit the farm. It’s quiet this time of year, but I’d be happy to show you around.”
“Maybe after Christmas, and after hop-a-long, here, is back on his feet,” Jane teased Charles.
Charles nodded. “It won’t be long. I’d rather stomp around in one of those moon boot things than use these stupid crutches.”
Will grinned mischievously. “You know, it may be safer if Jane visits without you.”
Charles chuckled. “Safer for me maybe, but not for you.”
“Safer?” Jane asked. “I don’t understand.”
Charles cleared his throat. “Will’s mother can be a little—”
“Overwhelming,” Will interjected. “Enthusiastic? She tends—”
“You live with your mother?” Elizabeth asked.
Will turned toward her; he hadn’t realized she was standing behind the couch. “Yes. And my father and younger brother.”
“Oh. Um, that’s–that’s nice”
An awkward silence fell, and Will rose from the couch. “Hey, um…I should take off. I need to get a few things done before I take my father to his appointment. If I don’t see either of you before the holiday, have a nice Christmas.”
Jane wished him and his family a happy holiday and disappeared into the kitchen, while Elizabeth made a quiet exit back into the dining room.
Charles grabbed his crutches and followed him to the door. “Sorry we didn’t have a chance to look at the greenhouse plans.”
“Don’t worry about it, I didn’t even know you were working on anything. We’ll do it another time.”
Charles nodded and eyed him thoughtfully. “Hey, um…she didn’t mean anything by it. Lizzy doesn’t know the situation, she doesn’t—”
“I don’t care.”
Charles looked at him skeptically, and Will shrugged.
“I don’t. I really don’t give a shit what she says or what she thinks. She doesn’t matter.”
Charles sighed. “Whatever you say.”
Will forced a smile. “Lucky for you, Jane and her sister are nothing alike. You got the good one, pal.”
Elizabeth stared at her laptop, feeling worse by the minute. The look on Will’s face when she’d asked if he lived with his mother spoke volumes. She knew she’d insulted him—again—and felt the sting of embarrassment. She was surprised to learn he lived with his mother, and it was that feeling that made her blurt the question out. It wasn’t meant to sound derisive or critical but she knew it had, and now she felt lousy.
She could hear Jane and Charlie talking quietly in the other room, and then her sister’s footsteps approaching as Charlie shuffled off down the hall. Her eyes rose from her laptop when Jane entered the dining room and her sister’s expression said it all.
Oh boy, I’m in for it.
“I know what you’re going to say and believe me, you don’t need to,” Elizabeth said, speaking rapidly but quietly. “I sounded snotty and judgmental and I really didn’t mean to, it just…came out that way.”
“Seriously? You’re going to have to do better than that. Will has been nothing but polite and kind to me, and so have Charlie and his sister. Everyone has been so nice, but you just—it’s like you have this snotty, holier-than-thou thing going on, and I just don’t get it. This is where we grew up and this is my home, hopefully for the rest of my life, so you need to lose the attitude.”
“You’re right, I’ve been awful since I got here, especially to Farmer Darcy—”
“It’s Will, Lizzy. His name is Will.” Jane folded her arms across her chest and glared at her sister. “He’s Charlie’s best friend and is like a brother. Calling him Farmer Darcy is condescending and rude.”
Elizabeth held up a hand. “Okay, okay. And you’re right, I’ve been awful. I’ll be better, okay?”
“Just be nice.” Jane paused and her voice softened. “The thing is, you are nice. That’s why I don’t get it. Is it the Colin thing? Are you upset about that?”
“No, it’s not that, it’s…” Elizabeth sighed heavily. “Look, there’s just…stuff. But I’m fine, all right? I promise to behave. Now go check on Charlie.”
“He went to lie down.”
Elizabeth forced a grin and injected some lightness into her voice. “All the more reason for you to go and check on him.”
“You’re avoiding my questions. Again.”
Jane continued to stand and stare, and Elizabeth knew she’d continue indefinitely unless she said something.
“All right, yes, the thing with Colin is bothering me a little. I feel rotten about the way I handled it. And work is scary and uncertain.” Elizabeth averted her eyes from Jane’s. “And to top it all off, I just insulted Far–Will again, and what makes it perversely funny is that this time I didn’t mean to.”
“Why haven’t you said anything to me about work? The whole time you’ve been here you haven’t been yourself, and I just thought–I thought it was because you were thinking about Dad.”
Elizabeth grimaced. Oh yes, there’s that, too.
Jane tilted her head. “Obviously, there’s more going on than what you’ve told me. I should’ve known that, but I’ve been so wrapped up in Charlie—”
“It’s okay, Jane. I’m a big girl, I’ll figure it out.”
“We will talk more.”
“We will, I promise. But right now you need to go and kiss Charlie’s boo-boos, okay? I have work to do.”
“You’re going out now?” Mrs. Darcy asked.
“I’m just going for a walk.” Will turned to his father, who was just finishing his lunch. “I’ll get you there in time, Dad, don’t worry.”
“But his appointment is in an hour. Should I ask George to take him? I’m sure he wouldn’t—”
“I’m going for a walk,” Will repeated calmly, although he felt like yelling. “I said I’d be back in time. I’ll take Dad to his appointment. Okay?”
She fidgeted with her apron. “It’s just…you know I don’t like to drive in the snow.”
“Abigail.” Mr. Darcy’s voice was raspy but firm. “The boy said he’d be back. Let–let him go.”
Will zipped up his jacket and headed out the back door, walking past the pickup truck and the garage that housed the broken-down tractors, past the massive barn and the smaller sheds, and out into the open lane that led between Pemberley’s two main fields.
It was cold out, enough for him to clearly see his breath, but the sun was shining brilliantly. He needed a few minutes, just twenty damn minutes alone, to walk out his frustrations and get a grip.
Walking—or horseback riding—had always been his way of centering himself. If something was weighing on his mind, he was usually able to get it sorted during a walk or a ride. But over the past few days he hadn’t had time to do either, and it showed. He felt short-tempered and wound up.
You live with your mother?
One simple question, yet it threw him into a tailspin. And what sucked even more was that she’d read him like a book after she’d asked it; she knew she’d gotten to him. He’d seen it in her expression and heard it in the way she’d tried to backpedal, saying it was “nice.”
Nice my ass.
She knew nothing about him, nothing about his situation or the responsibilities he shouldered on a daily basis. Who was she to judge him and make assumptions about his life?
He wasn’t embarrassed about living with his parents. He’d gotten over that feeling a long time ago, and had no desire to dredge it up again. It was the way she’d said it, as though he should be embarrassed. What she’d really meant was, you still live with your mother?
Charles had seen right through him. He knew Elizabeth’s question had bothered Will, just as Will knew Charles would attempt to smooth it over; it was in his friend’s nature to try and keep things on an even keel.
He slowedhis pace as he reached a bend in the trail. The Housatonic Valley lay before him, stretching east toward the Taconic Mountains. He inhaled deeply and felt the tension slowly ebb from his body, just as it always did when he came here.
I don’t care, he’d said to Charles. I really don’t give a shit what she says or what she thinks. She doesn’t matter. The moment the declaration was uttered, it was obvious his friend hadn’t believed it.
The worst part was that Will didn’t know if he believed it himself.
On Wednesday morning, Elizabeth sat at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee and sharing the newspaper with Charlie. He was ready to go home; three nights in Jane’s capable hands had restored him, although he was still hobbling around on crutches. Jane would take him to the orthopedic doctor today to be fitted for a walking boot, and then he’d be on his own.
Although Elizabeth hadn’t been happy to see Charlie hurt, the upside of it was that Jane had been able to spend more time with him. Elizabeth had witnessed several quiet conversations between the two of them, and she’d given them as much privacy as she could.
Farmer Darcy—Will—hadn’t returned to Longbourn again, not since he’d visited on Monday. Elizabeth tried to convince herself it wasn’t because she’d run him off; he was probably busy.
Busy doing what?
She suddenly found herself in the disagreeable position of wanting to know more about him and his family. Much as she tried to force him from her mind, he always wormed his way back in, causing her to get little to no work done.
She cleared her throat. “So you must be ready to head home, hm?”
Charlie folded his section of the paper and lay it on the table. “I guess I am. This has been like a mini-vacation. It just sucks that I had to injure myself to get it.”
She smiled. “Will you be able to jump right back into work?”
“I won’t be climbing ladders anytime soon, but it’s sort of slow right now. People tend to shy away from doing big projects over the holidays.”
“That makes sense. Um, what about Will? What does he do during the winter? I imagine the farm isn’t very productive…” Charlie’s eyebrows rose, and she suddenly felt self-conscious.
“Um, he stays busy.” His blue eyes focused on her. “He’s a good guy. He has a lot on his shoulders, but he rarely complains. His dad got sick a while ago, and then his brother had an accident—”
He stopped speaking suddenly, and she could tell from his expression that he thought he’d said too much.
What’s wrong with his father? And what kind of accident? The questions were there at the tip of her tongue, begging to be asked, but she held them in check. “It sounds like he juggles a lot.”
Charles nodded. “He works hard.”
Jane came bustling into the kitchen, all bright smiles and sparkly eyes, and focused all of that energy on Charlie. “Ready to go?”
He smiled. “Definitely. Have you thought about tonight?”
“Are you sure you feel up to it? I can wait until January.”
“I feel fine, and there won’t be as many people there in January. Everyone goes to this one because the Christmas party is right after.”
“Can I be nosy and ask what you’re talking about?” Elizabeth asked.
“Charlie wants me to go to the Chamber of Commerce meeting with him tonight,” Jane answered. “A lot of business owners in town belong to the Chamber, so he thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get my name out there. Plus I’d be able to meet some other inn owners.”
“It’s a great idea,” Elizabeth agreed. “It certainly wouldn’t hurt to establish connections and do some networking now, before Longbourn is even off the ground.”
“That’s what I told her,” Charlie said. “Will is going to be there, he’ll do his big pitch for the food bank. He’s been the director for almost two years.”
Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose. “Wow, that’s…time consuming.”
Elizabeth and Jane knew all about the Stockbridge food bank. Years ago, when the neighboring town was trying to raise funds for it, their father had stepped in and generously donated the money to have it built and fully stocked. It had subsisted on donations since then, but David Bennet had been an integral part of its birth.
The town had wanted to give him naming rights but he’d graciously declined, saying he didn’t do it to have his name plastered on the building; he’d just wanted to help. Despite his reputation as a fierce and heartless businessman, her father wasn’t heartless at all; at least, not when it came to sharing his wealth. He earned millions of dollars each year but gave much of it away to charities and causes he supported. Each one had been accounted for in his will and bequeathed a sizeable sum of money.
They chatted a bit longer, and when Charlie invited Elizabeth to the meeting as well, she jumped at the chance. If the look on Jane’s face was anything to go by, she’d jumped a little too eagerly.
Charlie and Jane left a short time later, and Elizabeth sat down at her laptop and typed ‘Stockbridge Mass food bank’ into the search engine. She clicked on the website and watched as random pictures scrolled across the home page. One in particular caught her eye; it was small, just a thumbnail image, but she clicked on it and it expanded to fill her screen.
Her mouth dropped open when she saw the smiling face of Farmer Darcy beaming out at her. In a suit. With no beard. And wearing the sexiest dimples she’d ever seen.
This is what’s hidden underneath the beard and the blue jeans? She could hardly believe it, but there it was—there he was—staring back at her with those deep brown eyes. She read the caption beneath the photo which stated his name—Fitzwilliam Darcy?—and noted it was taken at a fundraiser gala held just six months ago.
Her mouth snapped shut and she scrolled through the other pictures, ignoring most but stopping at a few. She saw Charlie in some, and there were some with Caroline, a few of which showed her standing with Will. Fitzwilliam. That’s a mouthful.
She studied those particular pictures longer than she should have, but she couldn’t figure out if they were a thing or not. She’d had the thought at the barn dance that they might have been, and they looked comfortable together in these pictures, but not quite couple-ish…
A sinking feeling settled in her stomach and she sat back in her chair. Why do I care? I can’t care. I don’t care. I absolutely will not care.
She sighed and closed her eyes. For the past ten days, he’d been someone she wanted to avoid. But now… When had he become a puzzle for her to put together? When had she begun to rearrange the pieces of him in her mind, trying to assemble them into a cohesive picture?
It was Monday, after I asked him about living with his mother. She’d seen something akin to vulnerability in his expression, much as he’d tried to mask it. At that precise moment, something within her had softened and shifted.
A feeling of panic welled up inside of her, and she opened her eyes and grabbed the mouse, minimizing the picture on her screen. It didn’t matter; the image of him was still there, just as sharp in her mind as if he’d been standing in front of her.
She leaned forward and dropped her head into her hands. She couldn’t go with Jane tonight, not feeling like this.
Feeling like what?
The question loomed and she waited patiently for an answer to come. She tried to force it, tried to get her feelings and thoughts to settle into some semblance of order, but they kept spiraling away.
Just when it seemed a pointless effort, it finally hit her. She was confused, and therein lay the problem; she didn’t want to be confused, she wanted to be very certain of what she felt for him.
And completely at odds with that confusion was a pronounced, almost greedy curiosity about him. She could tell herself over and over that she wanted to know nothing more of him than what she already knew, but it simply wasn’t true.
Face it, Lizzy. What you want, and what is actually happening, are two completely different things.
Thanks so much for reading! Chapter 6 will be posted on or around March 19th. Enjoy the weekend!