Darcy reached for her and clutched at the air as she ran from him, laughing as her bonnet fell to the ground and several curls escaped from their pins. The normally very correct gentleman watched her progress with amusement, planning his attack. She knew the woods of the Longbourn estate much better than did he, but he was determined to have his prize.
“You promised me!” he called. “I shall claim my winnings! I won fairly, and you must give me what was agreed upon.”
He saw her up the hill, hiding behind first one tree and then another, darting between them like an errant sunbeam. Her yellow gown fluttered as she ran, ribbons streaming behind her, and her laughter floated on the breeze, as if she knew some delicious secret that she would not share.
His brown eyes twinkled as he planned his strategy. After all, he had won the chess game by holding back, waiting until the perfect moment to execute his plan. The gentleman was accustomed to being patient while his lovely opponent was spontaneous, mercurial. She was completely other, and she fascinated him endlessly.
He left his coat and hat on a tree stump and began to track her, moving very quietly through the underbrush. He could hear her, just ahead of him, breathing quickly, and he stooped to hide in the bushes, holding a few leaves to the side so that he could see up the hill.
He saw her skirt move in the wind as she leaned against a tree with her back to him, catching her breath. Her slight frame was obscured by the width of the tree.
Does she not realize that her dress cannot be still in the breeze?
He crept closer and closer, taking a circuitous route to approach the tree from the side, knowing she would not expect him to come from the brush there.
She peeked around the tree, her merry green eyes scanning the trees and bushes. Suddenly, she heard a deep chuckle behind her and she whirled to face the hunter.
“Sir!” she exclaimed. “It is not gentlemanly to sneak about in such a fashion!”
She turned to run again, but he caught her about the waist from behind and held her fast, pulling her backwards into his embrace, pinning her against his chest with his muscular arms.
“Elizabeth,” he spoke softly into her ear. “I will have my prize. You must honor your promise to me.”
He lowered his head, nuzzling her, and she shivered at the sensation of his warm breath against her neck and his strong arms caging her, drawing her tightly to him. After a moment, he relaxed his hold, and she saw her chance.
Quickly she spun in his arms, reaching up and pulling his head down toward hers, stopping just before their lips touched.
“You think you won by your superior strategy, my love,” she said teasingly. “I think I am the victor here. I tricked you into finding me so that I could claim what I wanted.”
He allowed her to finish drawing his face to hers, kissing her gently at first, and then with an urgency born of his love for her. After she had been thoroughly kissed, she laid her cheek on his broad chest, listening to the steady beat of his heart, breathing in the scent of him, holding to him as tightly as she could while he caressed her back.
He did not argue with her. After all, what did it matter which one claimed the victory as long as they both won?