*Chapter Twenty-One*

“So the three of you have decided to have a party in my office and not even invite me! I’m hurt!”

Will, Liz and Catherine all turned towards doorway where they saw Charlie grinning at them.

“How did you get in without the circus seeing you?” Liz asked.

“The basement door. I’m not nearly brave enough to face the Bennet gauntlet on my own!”

Liz scoffed, “And we are?”

Catherine sensed that she was no longer needed and said, “I’m going to see if I can relieve JJ and take Carrie off her hands. Did you want me to send her in here?”

Charlie and Liz said simultaneously, “Yes!”

Nodding, Catherine left the study, closing the door behind her.

As soon as the door was shut, Will turned on Bingley. “Chip, you bastard! You just let us walk in here unaware! What the hell is wrong with you man?”

Choosing to ignore Will, Charlie turned to Liz and asked, “So Beth, how do you like my friend?”

Liz was pissed too. “I like him just fine, it’s Liz, and why the hell is my family here? Quiet weekend my foot! And Catherine tells us we’re all done in by social networking? Thank you freakin’ facebook! Charlie, you have a lot of explaining to do!”

“On second thought, you are both too stubborn for your own good. Aside from Carrie and aside from Fran, how are you two?”

Will asked Liz, “Do you want me to kill him or would you rather? After all, you are the savage one.”

Liz appeared to give it a moment’s thought and answered sweetly, “I do love JJ and it would pain me, even though I am a savage, to murder my sister’s husband. You can do it. After all, you did say you weren’t that close anyways.”

“Excellent point, Love. So, Chip, are you hard up for cash? Are we being filmed for some new reality show? What the devil is going on in that tiny little brain of yours?”

“No! And what the hell? No! Now, stop ganging up on me! You know I love you like a brother Will and only have ever wanted to see you happy and the more JJ and I discussed it, the more we, well I, thought Elisabeth would be perfect for you. And Bethy has been so busy, she never goes anywhere or sees anyone but she has this awesome sense of humor that reminds me so much of you Will that I thought even if there was no romantic spark between you two, that at least you’d maybe be friends. And Beth- you know your father! Remember at the wedding how he made a toast saying that we’d never know when he was likely to show up? Well, he just showed up! We waited and waited for you two last night, just Jane and me, and we had put together that you had already met and were honestly having a good laugh at how that must have been going when suddenly the doorbell rang. It was your family and I’ll be damned if Fran didn’t just walk in as if she owned the place. God, I really hate Fran. Anyways, we worked to get them settled and then broke out some dessert and then there was Carrie at the door. Had I known Carrie was here Will, I swear…”

Charlie stopped his explanantion out of respect for his friend. He didn’t want to embarrass Will in front of Liz and decided it would be best to just be silent.

Will sighed, “Its okay Chip, Liz knows all about Carrie.”

 “Thank God! I’m sorry Liz. I’m sorry Will. When we finally had a moment last night to call you back, your phones were both off. We tried over and over to reach you, but we had no idea where you were. Thank God that Collins called us this morning to let us know you were safe. When we realized you were still together we called again but when you finally answered, you guys were pissed and didn’t want to talk to us. In our defense, we tried- over and over- to warn you!”

Liz spoke, “We were having some issues this morning. Everything just seemed so mixed up. It was a comedy of errors worthy of Shakespeare. Okay, maybe not quite Shakespeare, but still… Anyways, I think I can speak for Will when I say that we forgive you and JJ. We’ve enlisted CC, or rather Catherine, to help us evade your sister. Is she really unhinged?”

“No. She’s not. We’ve had her extensively tested. She’s not bi-polar or anything like that. Carrie is simply fixated on Fitz and though it manifests like a mania of sorts, she’s not technically mentally ill. They do try to keep her on mood stabilizers which she doesn’t mind taking because all of her creative-type friends in New York take them too. It seems all artists are afflicted with some level of craziness. Bottom line is she is not technically ill, she plays at it really well and she thinks it gives her liscense to do what she wants.”

Will echoed the question from earlier, “Is she dangerous?”

 “Normally, I’d say no. She’s off her meds though and I have no idea what is going on with her from one moment to the next. She drove all the way here from New York on her own on the chance that you would be here this weekend. I have to agree that it would be best if we kept her as far away from you and Liz as possible. To be safe, I’d stay away from each other as well.”

Liz muttered, “Crud monkey.”

Jane Bingley entered the room. “Some things never change! I can’t believe you still say that!”

Liz rushed up to hug JJ and it warmed Will’s heart to see the genuine love the sisters shared. He had watched the indifferent welcome she had received from Mimi, LiLi, Fran and even to a certain extent, her father. How anyone could hold any disdain for his Liz was a mystery to him.

Holding her sister at arm’s length, Liz looked at JJ’s stomach and smiled. “Thank God that some things do change. Look at you! Real-live baby bump and everything! I am so happy for you guys!”

JJ was beaming with a mix of maternal pride and genuine happiness at her reunion with her sister. Knowing that it wouldn’t be very long before someone noticed all four of them were missing, JJ pulled Liz over to the sofa and they both sat down.

Impatiently, JJ said, “So?”

Liz pretended to have no idea what her sister meant. “So what?”

“So what? Sew buttons, that’s what! What do you think I mean? How are things going with tall, dark and broody over there? If I’d have had any idea what a mess this all would be I would have never suggested it.”

“Tall, dark and moody more like… but really, he’s no more moody than I am. Which is something you probably knew, and that’s what makes you so dangerous. People always think you’re this sweet, little wife and they have no idea that you could be the world’s greatest criminal mastermind! Oh, and by the way… don’t ever facebook what I’m doing ever again! I mean it!”

Jane shook her head. “You still haven’t actually answered the question.”

 “As the original question was only the word ‘so’, you’ve got to admit you left a lot of room for ambiguity. But today I am feeling gracious towards my favorite sister and will satisfy your curiosity. Will is great, I really like him… I think I could even love him. Let me ask you this- are there times that you know that you really love Charlie but you still want to strangle him or suffocate him with a pillow?”

Jane laughed, “Every day! But I know that he’s my Charlie and even when I want to strangle him, I know that I love him. Similarly, I know I drive him up the wall crazy. After all these years he still claims I keep changing the rules on him.”

Seriously interested, Liz questioned, “Do you?”

“Not intentionally. Bethy, relationships don’t, despite what Border’s will tell you, come with rule books. Each couple has their own dynamic and therefore has their own way of working things out. What might work best for me and Charlie is different than what works for Collins and Lottie and would definitely be different than what might work for you and Fitz. There is a you and Fitz, right?”

“Yes, I think there might be. It’s so strange because even with Drew, and I get that it was so long ago, it didn’t feel this familiar. I don’t know if that makes any sense or not. I can’t believe I have no idea how these things are actually supposed to work. I hate feeling like this, like Fran is right. No offense, but your mom is really out of control.”

JJ hugged her sister tightly. “No, Fran is not right about you and she never was. When you and Drew were together, it was a long time ago and you both had a lot of growing up to do. You’d have had to give everything up and while I agree that marriage involves compromise, it shouldn’t all be one-sided either! You, my dearest Lizard, are about to become Dr. Elisabeth Gardiner- see? I remembered!- and had you stayed with Drew, none of that could have happened. And frankly? I can’t see you as a military wife. I mean, have you seen that Army Wives show? Seriously, it’s terrible!”

“I’ll take your word on that. Can I ask a really ridiculous question?”

JJ laughed. “If I said no, would that stop you?”

“I suppose not, but know that I feel like an idiot for even asking this. When exactly did you know you were in love with Charlie?”

“I know you Bethy, you won’t like my answer. Are you sure you want to hear it?”

Liz hated being addressed as a child. “Yes! I don’t know why you assume I won’t like it. I think I’m a little offended.”

“Don’t be. I say that you won’t like it only because falling in love is not some problem to solve, there are no riddles, no formulas… it just is. It’s an organic thing, not something you can construct in a lab. I knew I was in love with Charlie, that he would be the man I would marry, by the end of our first date.”

Confused, Liz asked, “But…you guys broke up for over a year. How did you not lose faith?”

Jane smiled, “Who says I didn’t?”

“I just thought…”

Jane squeezed Liz’s shoulder. “You think too much.”

Across the room, Will and Bingley were having a remarkably similar conference.

“Chip, I’ve had the chance to think about some of my past behavior and have come to a conclusion.”

Intrigued, Charlie asked, “And that would be?”

“Oh, I’m certain this won’t be revelatory for you or anything, but it’s come to, well, been brought to, my attention that I’ve been an arrogant arse and quite the selfish bastard. I’m not quite sure how you’ve even tolerated me these last few years, but I am glad you have done so.”

Charlie clapped Will on the back. “Wow. Bethy is quite the miracle worker. I knew I was right about you two!”

“She hates that you know.” Charlie, surprised, looked to Will who further explained, “She really despises being called Beth. She said that she only allows you and Jane some leeway on the matter because she loves you both. Liz nearly tore Catherine’s head off for calling her Beth. What kind of monster is your mother-in-law anyways and why exactly does Mr. Bennet allow it? Changing a grieving child’s name- ridiculous!”

Charlie grinned and upon seeing Charlie grin, Will became angry. “What is there to smile about? You are a right bloody idiot sometimes Charlie, brilliant or not. How can they be so cruel as to behave….”

Cutting into Will’s tirade, Bingley stated plainly, “You love her.”

“What?”

“You, my friend, are a man in way over his head. The thing about quicksand is the more you struggle, the worse off you are. It’s really best to just stop fighting Will.”

On the defensive, Darcy said, “You really speak total, bloody nonsense. While I believe that I could- someday- possibly grow to love Liz, isn’t it much too early to entertain the idea?”

“Entertain? Will, you should hear yourself! You are so protective of her. She’s obviously shared a lot with you and that speaks of a trust that my sister-in-law does not freely give. And you look at her like she’s the air you need to breathe. What else would you call it if not love?”

Shaking his head, Darcy answered, “No. It’s much too soon. I like her a great deal…”

“Bullshit!” Bingley began to taunt Darcy by singing quietly, “William and Lizzy, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g! First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Fitzy in a baby carriage!”

“I lied. You’re the insufferable arse.”  Darcy closed his eyes and sighed. “Okay. What if you’re right? She lives in Boston and I live in England. Even if I should reposition my base to New York, what then? She’s just embarking in a field that can’t be that easy to succeed in. Why would a woman like Liz want to settle with a curmudgeonly discontent bastard like me and give up everything she’s worked so hard for? It seems rather like a hopeless situation to me.”

Bingley asked, “What if she loves you?”

“That would be wonderful, but I’d imagine that’s highly unlikely.”

Charlie decided to try another angle. “Would you make her give everything up?”

“No. Of course not.”

“What’s the problem then? What are you so afraid of?

“I’ve been thinking of all the reasons that this could never work. There are many…would you like to hear some of them?”

Charlie rolled his eyes at Darcy. His friend had always been like this. Unwilling to take a risk, to chance that happiness and not misery might be the result. It was exasperating.

“Will? You think too much!”

*Chapter Twenty-Two*

Will shook his head, laughed and said, “I think too much? Perhaps I do. In fact, I said those exact words last night when… You know what? It’s not important when I said them. “

“You really said that? I’m surprised Fitz! My dear Sil must be working miracles if she got you to understand that!”

Darcy groaned. “See? It’s all that other nickname nonsense that got us in trouble to start! Sil? Let me guess…Sil is an acronym for sister-in-law, right?”

“Other nickname nonsense? Oh! Was she calling me Bil? Yeah, that drives Fran nuts!”

Will wondered if it was too soon to take some more Tylenol. Eyes squeezed tightly shut and pinching the bridge of his nose, Will stated, “So, let me see if I have this correct- You, Chip, are Charlie of course, but also known as Bil, which is brother-in-law. Your wife Jane is JJ, your other sister-in-laws are Mimi who is Mary, CC who is Catherine and LiLi who’s named Lindsey. Elisabeth is Liz Gardiner but, for some reason I don’t fully understand, used to be called Beth Bennet. That barmy cop we met last night’s wife is somehow related and his family was close with the Bennets. Have I left anything out?”

For all the years Charlie lived in the UK, he still did a ridiculously poor impression of a Brit. Cracking himself up, Bingley said, “By Jove, Old Chap! I think you’ve got the right of it!”

“I will, for the life of me, never understand why people think that is funny. Seriously Chip, did I miss anything? I mean aside from you and your wife adding to the confusion by telling Liz my name is Fitz, which you know only you get away with, and by calling her a name you know damn well she hates!”

Before Charlie could say a word, Will began again. “And then there were the not very informative bits of information you gave us. She thought I was some-sort of capitalist corporate raider while I was led to believe she was some lonely academic spinster. For a would-be match-maker, you do it appallingly bad!”

 “Whoa there Fitz! You are a capitalist corporate raider, really, if you think about it. You’re just not an inherently evil one. And Bethy, okay Liz, is such a huge nerd that, and really- I love her, please don’t get me wrong, if she goes on as she is, she will be a spinster. You guys are honestly two of the most socially awkward people I’ve ever met! You get along well enough with others and can play nice when you have to, but you guys both think that you know what’s best for everyone around you except yourselves! You are all Mr. Build-a-wall-so-I-don’t-have-to-deal-with-anyone and she’s so Miss Build-a-wall-so-no one-gets-in-to-hurt-me. Really, what a pair you are!”

Will gave some thought to what Bingley had said. “And this is your opinion of me? I really have been the worst friend ever, haven’t I?”

Bingley grinned. “You have your moments where you’re not entirely insufferable.”

Sarcastically, Will muttered, “Thanks. Good to know.”

“Oh come on now Will! The biggest obstacle you need to overcome is this need you have to fix everything. Some things just cannot be fixed nor should you try. I don’t need fixed. Neither does my wife. I think you’re beginning to understand that now, aren’t you?”

“Another thing Liz was right about. She made me understand that I never gave Jane a fair chance. I presumed that since she was one of your sister’s models, Jane would be just another one of Carrie’s sycophants. Then when you two began, I again presumed that she was something that apparently she’s not. I’m sorry.” Charlie remained quiet, and needing to fill the silence, Will said, “I understand from Liz that congratulations are in order?”   

The girls had come over just in time for Jane to hear Will’s latest confession. Placing her hands gently over her abdomen, Jane smiled. “Thank you Will, they are.”

Realizing he’d been overheard, Will began to feel closed in, as if nothing he could say or do was right. This was such an odd sensation for a man who had gone nearly his entire life without being questioned by anyone except his father. Just as a malaise was about to set in, Liz caught his gaze and gave him a brilliant smile.

Instantly feeling able to rise to any challenge, Will exhaled. “Jane, it seems that I have been incredibly remiss. In fact, I had just been telling Chip that I have no idea how he puts up with me. The both of you are much too kind.”

Jane was beginning to wonder what exactly it was her sister had done to the usually arrogant man.  Could a lobotomy have possibly been involved? Whatever the cause for the change, Jane was glad to see it.  “Charlie loves you like a brother William and that’s why. Friends are the family you choose to love instead of the family that you get stuck with and are supposed to love.”

Liz chimed in, “I can second that.”

Charlie smiled at Liz.  “And once in a while, if you’re really lucky, within the family you get someone who you can safely call a friend.”

Liz grinned back at Bingley. “Why thank you Bil.”

“Absolutely  welcome Sil!”

Will smiled as he shook his head at Liz and Bingley’s antics. “Good God Jane! Listen to them! Sil and Bil? Are we trapped in a Dr. Seuss book or something? Are they always like this?”

Jane thought she might be able to appreciate this version of Darcy. Charlie had always said he could be funny and even smile once in a while. However, in the five years she’d known the man, she’d seen no evidence of any sort of humor at all. Yet, in the short time she’d been in his company this afternoon, he’d smiled more and seemed just easier somehow than he ever had before. The only thing that Jane could ascribe it to was her sister’s influence.

Looking to Will, Jane chuckled. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Charlie was about to defend the brilliant work of Theodore Geisel when suddenly the study door flew open and Carrie burst into the room with an apologetic-looking Catherine trailing behind her.

Carrie smiled warmly and apologized. “I am so sorry for being late darlings! I simply had no idea that you’d arrived!”

Liz spoke first. “That’s alright Carrie. We’ve only just gotten here a few minutes ago. I needed to see Jane for a moment. It’s great to see you though, Carrie. You look fantastic as always.” Nodding to her outfit, Liz remarked, “That’s a great sweater you’ve got there.”

Looking down at her ensemble as if she’d somehow forgotten what she was wearing, Carrie demurred, “Oh this? As a favor to me, Donna had one of her designs remade in this color just for me. As I was telling sweet little Catherine earlier, orange is so the new black this year.”

Having only ever seen that particular shade of orange on pylon cones, Liz said, “That certainly is original!”

Jane chimed in, “Definitely exclusive.”

“Thank you ladies, I always knew you had exquisite taste. Although, I have to say, Miss Liz, that I had been telling Catherine that I simply must get you made over this weekend. I know that in your little lab no one sees what you’re wearing under those drab white coats but when you graduate you’ll need a much more professional appearance darling and I’ve got just the things for you! I know that you much prefer muted and darker shades, though with your coloring you could easily wear brights, and so, with that in mind, you must promise to try some of the items I’ve brought for you!”

Stunned, Liz politely answered, “Thank you Carrie, I don’t know what to say.”

Carrie grinned, “That’s simple darling, say that you’ll let me play Barbie with you and you’ll try on all the fabulous clothes I’ve brought you! Oh, and please, please, please help me convince your sister to do one little, tiny, easy, last shoot for me!”

Jane protested, “Carrie, I quit modeling years ago. I just can’t.”

“Oh that’s nonsense. I’m not talking about shows or anything strenuous… I just need you, all-American girl that you are, to do a small series of print ads for me for the new Baby-Bing-Bling bags that I’ve designed specifically with the newest Bingley in mind! How Meta would that be? The new Baby-Bing-Bling bag for the new Baby Bingley? Oh, Jane dearest, it’s inspired! And Liz, sweetheart? You must simply help me convince my most popular, and still requested, model that I need her this one last time? Pretty, pretty please?”

“Thanks for the confidence you have in my ability to persuade JJ and I’ll try, but in the end, it’s really up to her.”

Carrie crushed Liz in a hug. “Oh I knew I could count on you Liz! You Bennet girls have always been so delightful! My dear brother couldn’t have married into a better family.”

Just noticing her brother and Will were in the room, Carrie burst with happiness, “Oh you came! Will sweetheart, I knew you’d come! I am so glad you’ve come at last darling!”

 

*Chapter Twenty-Three* 

Will knew it was inevitable that she would have noticed him sooner or later. His whole body tensed as he prepared to deal with whatever delusion Caroline was currently in. Liz noticed Will was rigid in his stance and the grimace on his face made it look like he was in actual pain. Unconsciously, she drew a little nearer to him, placing herself between Carrie and Will.

“Well, Carrie, this is quite a surprise. I had no idea that you’d be here this weekend.”

“Oh darling! You love to tease me! This is so exciting! Now I can introduce you to the rest of my family! Sweet Jane’s amazing family is as dear to me as my own!” Pulling Catherine’s hand to bring the poor girl forward, she announced, “Will? This is Catherine Bennet and she’s a senior in high school. You already know sweet-baby Jane and next to Jane is Miss Liz who is simply a genius!”

Liz, feeling very protective of Will, sought to distract Caroline. “Genius? I think you’re being much to kind to me Carrie. After all, I’m not the one who leads a glamorous life like you do. I understand that you were recently in Milan again?”

“Oh yes! Milano is simply amazing in the fall! And so few understand fashion like the Italians do! You must go there someday and in many of the best travernas and trattorias if you say that you’re my sister, they’ll take care of you like royalty! They adore me there!”

 Liz used all her will-power to keep a straight face and not roll her eyes. “Wow. That does sound pretty amazing Carrie. Maybe the next time I happen to find myself in Italy, I’ll do just that.”

Caroline loved being the center of attention. She looked at Will and as much as she looked forward to a reunion with him, she had hoped for a more private setting for it. So instead of pursuing him just now, she decided that now was the best time for Liz’s makeover.

Grabbing Liz’s hand, she announced, “You all will just have to excuse me and Miss Liz here, we have some important work to do!”

Liz looked pleadingly at the others for help. “Really? Now Carrie?” Liz was trying to quickly think of another way to redirect Caroline’s attention away from both herself and Will. Nothing was coming to mind and so Liz decided to sacrifice herself to a long afternoon of being dressed up like a living Barbie doll.

“But Carrie!” Catherine whined as she slyly winked at Liz. “You promised LiLi and me that you’d take us to the mall! The crowds are gone now and we both are dying for your advice!”

Caroline spun around towards Catherine and exclaimed, “Yes! We must go to the mall! I need to show LiLi that everything she wears doesn’t need to have Hollister emblazoned across it! Miss Liz, Janey-darling, you both must come too!”

Jane and Liz looked at each other and began to hurriedly explain that they couldn’t possibly go. Jane needed to arrange for dinner and Liz was fatigued from her trip and needed to rest- for her sugar’s sake of course. Charlie announced that he needed to take Will out for a few errands but that the rest of the Bennets would love to accompany her to the East Towne Mall.

Caroline frowned a bit. “There’s not even a Macy’s there, but I think we can still find something for you ladies! This will be such fun!”

Catherine advised Caroline to go let everyone know they’d be leaving soon. Caroline bounced out of the study, eagerly anticipating self-name-dropping herself all over the mall. Catherine stood before Liz with a smug smile on her face with her hand out.

Liz shook her head at her sister’s quick-witted cleverness. Handing her twenty dollars, Liz said, “You can have whatever you want from Culver’s.”

Snatching the bill, Catherine grinned. “Thanks Liz! Caramel cashew sundae and crinkle fries, here I come!”

Shooing her sister out of the room, Liz said, “Alright, it was well-earned. Just make sure you only use this power of yours for good.”

Liz shut the door and leaned heavily against it. “Whew! That was close. I can’t believe that I never realized how truly odd she is. No offense Charlie! I just always attributed her manic-ness to being a fashionista.”

“Truly, she behaves just like every other designer I’ve ever met.” Jane confessed. “That madness is one of the reasons I quite modeling.”

Charlie hugged his wife. “But not the only one, right sweetie?”

Jane shook her head and teased her husband. “Hmm. Can’t think of any others right now. Maybe you need to remind me?”

Charlie wrapped one arm around her waist and moved the other higher up to support her back as he dipped her low and gave her a most passionate kiss.

Liz and Will laughed at the spectacle before them.

As Charlie returned his wife to her former upright position, Jane stammered, “Uh, yeah, I think I may actually recall another reason or two.”

Will watched them closely. How had he never noticed them like this before? He had been so blind. Jane really did love Charlie and Will only wondered what was wrong with him that he’d been able to see something that was so clear.

Will cleared his throat. “Ahem. If you two are about through there, I wonder it you might help us formulate a plan for how we can all make this weekend work without involving the National Inquisitor.”

Charlie corrected Will. “I think you mean National Enquirer and they’ve never bothered us here. Yet another reason I love Wisconsin.”

Whatever the bloody thing is called!  You knew what I meant; did you really have to correct me?”

Bingley laughed, “Poor Fitz! Somebody’s a grumpy bear! And yes, I did need to correct you. You’re almost never wrong and I admit I feel honored to have caught you in an error!”

Pinching the bridge of his nose gain, Will tried to remain calm as he said, “Do you really think this is the time for this sort of semantics game?  Where are we,” he indicated to Liz, “each supposed to sleep?”

Jane interceded, “It seems Carrie took the room we’d designated as yours and Mom, Dad and the girls have taken the other rooms. There’s a pull-out couch in the basement and Charlie’s sofa in here. Sorry guys.”

Hoping for the best, Will asked, “Does this door lock Chip?”

“I’m afraid not Fitz.”

“Bloody hell! I’m not…I can’t! I love you like a brother Chip but I cannot stay here in the same house as Carrie without a lock on my door. I just can’t.”

Charlie sighed; he had a feeling it was going to come to this. “When they leave for the mall, which, if I know Carrie, won’t be long, we’ll all head out for McGovern’s and you can get a room there Will.”

Resigned, Liz sighed. “I guess I’ll sleep in the basement.”

 “Like hell you will!”

*Chapter Twenty-Four*

Liz turned to Will and, quite stunned, said, “Like hell I will?”

Triumphant, Will answered, “Exactly.”

Jane shot Charlie a look of alarm. If there was one thing in the entire world that her sister detested more than others, it was being told what to do as if she were a child.

“Exactly?” repeated a bewildered Liz.

Not understanding, Will questioned her. “Yes. What’s the problem here? You can’t really believe that I would leave you here on your own?”

On my own? I hardly think staying in my sister’s house with my family qualifies as on my own!”

“Pardon me Elisabeth. I mistakenly thought that because you nearly had a heart attack when we drove up and you saw your father’s car in the drive and realized that your step-mum was here that you might wish to stay elsewhere. Sorry to have made such an erroneous error in judgment Liz.” Turning to Bingley, he bellowed, “Chip? If you’re keeping score, that’s twice in the last two minutes.”

Liz was boiling mad, and not for the first time that day. “Look, I already have a father, thank you, and besides, just who the hell are you to tell me what I should do or where I should go? Regardless of what I feel for my stepmother, she, whether I like it or not,”

Charlie quietly said, “Not.” and Jane lightly smacked him for it.

Clearing her throat and silencing Charlie with a glare, Liz began again, “…whether I like it or not, she’s a part of my family. I know that really it’s just you and your sister, but didn’t you have any family that made you insane?”

Will thought back to when he was a young man first struggling with raising his sister and how the Williams would drive him absolutely loony with their unceasing advice on everything. Aunt Clara and Uncle John were suffering from empty-nest syndrome and saw Georgie as an early-bonus grandchild of sorts. Cousins John and Andy would tease Will relentlessly about being saddled with their parents. “Better you than us” they’d say.  After having practically living alone for so long, his father being a shell of a man and all, he had welcomed the noise and madness of it all.

“Yes. I think I can understand what you’re saying.” Darcy drew a bit nearer to her and pleaded, “It’s just that I thought, well, hoped anyhow, that you and I, we, could spend some time together without being under the scrutiny of either your family or Carrie.”

Bingley, seeing that Liz wasn’t ready to answer, spoke. “Ah, hello! Did you need us to leave so you two can work this out?”

Jane looked between Darcy and her sister; then tugged as Charlie’s sleeve and made her way to the door. “They don’t need us right now, dear. Guys? We’ll be in the living room waiting for you when you’re ready.” The Bingley’s shut the door behind them.

Liz stood just inches away from Will, still chafing from his pushiness. She realized that it had a caring foundation, and he only had her comfort and best interests at heart, but nonetheless, he still could have just asked instead of demanded. “So. Where do we go from here?”

She had come most of the way, and so it was only right that he closed the remaining gap between them. “Despite my inarticulate way with words, Love, I think that it’s entirely in your hands. I love Chip, Charlie, Bil, Bingley, or whatever you wish to call him, like he was my own brother but I simply cannot stay here tonight. I really wish you would come with me. Please Love?”

Liz wrapped her arms around his waist and looked up into his warm, pleading, hazel eyes. “I don’t like being bossed around.”

Will nodded and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her slightly closer. “I’m sorry, Liz Love.”

She rested her head on his chest and sighed. “All you had to do was say please.”

He kissed the top of her head, and then tenderly brushed away the hair from her face to kiss her forehead. Will moved lower and whispered against her cheek, “Please?”

Liz nodded and nestled further into his arms, feeling calm for the first time since she had gotten out of the car. They just stood still for a moment, taking refuge in each other.

Feeling significantly better, Liz kissed his cheek and began to tease him. “So Will, I’ve been thinking that you are probably much too used to getting your own way in everything. I bet the people who work for you are terrified by the Mighty- and that’s with a capital M by the way- Mr. Darcy. Do you often bark out orders, expecting them to be blindly followed?”

He took a moment to review his past actions and knew he was most likely too severe on poor Reynolds. He’d certainly give his trusty assistant a substantial holiday bonus this year and what’s more, when he finally got a converter, he’d call and apologize for his excessively bad behavior. Upon further reflection, Will knew he was pretty demanding. He was hard on himself and he held others to the same unreasonably high standards that he had set for himself. It was one of the reasons that, even with the downturn in some markets, Pemberley was doing very well.

Will knew he should feel somewhat chided by her words. He wasn’t. Instead, Will was hopeful. “I guess I do. See? This is why I need you.”

Liz laughed. “So I’ve been designated to keep you from being a bastard? I confess I had no idea the magnitude of duties that this job would entail when I signed up for it!”

Will grinned and for his dimples made another rare appearance. “Well, Miss Gardiner, I think it’s my duty to inform you that I have a crack team of corporate attorneys who could make a very convincing case that we entered into an oral agreement that binds you in that position.”

She hugged him tight. “So what would happen if I were to, say, breach my contract?”

Another kiss was placed, this time on her nose. “If I couldn’t bring you to reason, I might have to seek legal redress.”

“And is your position firm that I need to remain in this job?” Liz questioned.

Will stated firmly, “Unmovable. I don’t believe there’s anyone else on this planet more capable than you for it.”

With mock seriousness, she answered, “Then I suppose I ought to continue to protect the world at large from His Royal Grumpiness. You know, for the general interest of the public.”

“It’s your civic duty.”

Liz giggled, “I try.”

“And you do an amazing job.”

She blushed. “It’s easy when you like your work.”

Will rested his head against hers. “So, this McGovern’s place? Me and you? Say yes.”

Yes.”

“Another oral contract! Excellent!”

“Don’t we need a handshake or something to seal the deal?”

He snapped his fingers and laughed. “Damn. I knew I’d forgotten something. We’ll have to rectify that immediately. Elisabeth Gardiner, will you please help me stay out of my own way by helping me overcome my arrogant bastard tendencies and also head to this McGovern’s place?”

Liz attempted to maintain a somewhat serious tone, but failed completely. “All right, Fitzwilliam Darcy, I’ll help you mind your manners and call you out when you’re being a jerk or too bossy and I will go with you to the hotel. So, now what? Handshake? Sign something?”

“No. I have a much better plan. What could be a more natural way to seal an oral contract than with a kiss?”

“It’s about time! Get on with it already!”

He just shook his head but could not shake the smile from his face as he did just that.

Charlie and Jane had been waiting patiently for them in the living room and when they hadn’t soon followed, they feared that Liz and Will, with their somewhat hot-headed tempers, were still arguing. Jane opened up the door only to find her sister and Will locked in an obviously passionate kiss. Silently closing the door to give them another minute of privacy, Jane turned around and found her husband staring at her with an ear to ear grin.

See? I was right. I couldn’t have plotted that any better if they were characters in one of my novels.”

Jane cautioned, “I love you, and I love that you think you’re right, but if your friend hurts my sister… I’ll, I’ll invent new tortures for you that you cannot even imagine.”

Smugly knowing that Jane couldn’t hurt a fly, Charlie asked, “Good tortures or bad tortures?”

Defiantly, Jane stated, “My mother-style tortures.”

Crud monkey.”

 

*Chapter Twenty-Five*

Will and Liz joined Bingley and Jane a minute or two later in the living room.

“So,” Will asked, “what exactly is this plan you’ve come up with?”

“Well, first let me ask,” Charlie said with a smirk, “if you two actually came to an agreement?”

“I think you already know the answer to that Bil. Don’t give up your day job to chase your ninja-fantasy because you don’t have that stealth bit down just yet.” Liz teased.

Jane was surprised. “You heard us? I thought we were very quiet.”

Will was beginning to feel comfortable enough to join in the group banter. “Quiet enough for a deaf person not to hear perhaps.”

Liz agreed. “You two were loud enough to wake up Pop when he’s snoring watching football.”

Darcy had never experienced a Sunday afternoon in the Bennet home and so questioned, “How does one snore and watch football?”

Charlie clapped Will on the back and replied, “Simple answer? You don’t. The man puts on the game and immediately proceeds to fall asleep and, you’ve got to believe me, he snores worse than you Fitz! The only thing to do is pray that you can pry the remote from Tom’s hand and watch something else picture-in-picture for you don’t dare change the channel. I made that mistake once and I swear, the man had no qualms about reminding me that he has many guns and is a damn good shot.”

Will wasn’t entirely sure whether his friend was joking. When he scanned Liz and Jane’s faces, he fared no better and was left to wonder just what kind of man Tom Bennet was.

For a moment, things were quiet as Will’s unease was felt by everyone. Liz broke the silence by answering the earlier question. “So JJ, Bil, as much as I would love to stay here and hang with Catherine, I’m not too keen on the idea of breaking my back on the sofa-bed or having the girls keep me up all night playing pool. Will and I are in agreement and I’m going to go with him to McGovern’s.”

Bingley smiled. He loved being right. “Very well then! Is there anything that you guys need before we head over there? It’s three o’clock now; we’re having dinner here at seven, so I’ll leave it to you two to decide what you want.”

Will asked, “Chip, do you have a converter? I left mine at home and as you made me leave my laptop at home, without my Blackberry, I don’t have anyone’s, except Georgie’s, number.”

Charlie said he thought he could lay his hand on one and excused himself for a moment to go grab it from his desk.

“So Beth, did you need anything sweetie?” Jane asked.

“You mean side from begging you, yet again, to stop calling me Beth? Nah, I’m good. I think Will is still nursing a headache from earlier. He’s trying to be all manly and stoic and not say anything about it, so I think it’s best if I take him over so he can grab a good nap before we foist everyone on him again.”

Darcy had been attempting to be stoic about the throbbing in his head. He was both surprised and pleased with her astute observation. “How did you know Liz?”

Liz smoothed his brow. “You cracked your head pretty hard earlier and this hasn’t really been an easy day. You also look like if I handed you a drill, you’d use it to give yourself a lobotomy, so you could call it a hunch.”

Will had closed his eyes at her tender and soft touch. He caught her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I don’t think it’s been an easy day for either of us. Thank you for helping me get through it.”

Jane watched the scene before her. They had completely forgotten she was even there but it didn’t bother her in the least. If Elisabeth could be happy with Will, then Jane would be happy for both of them.

Liz stood next to Will and slipped her arm around his waist, snuggling into the crook of his arm. “We had a deal, remember? You watch my back, and I’ll watch yours. As far as I can tell, we need to stick together to do that, don’t we?”

Will shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Laughter accompanied Liz’s reply. “You couldn’t if you wanted to because I have the car! You might as well face the facts that you’re being held hostage.”

With the utmost seriousness in his voice, he said, “Calling me a hostage implies that I’m here against my will. As long as you’re here, I’m fine.”

“How very diplomatic of you to say so. I think it’s more likely that you’re suffering from that hostage thing where the captives defend their captors, what was that called? Stockholm syndrome I think.”

Will laughed and pulled her into his arms. “So am I Patty Hearst in your scenario? I think not.”

Jane was in amazement with how at ease these two were with each other. It had taken Charlie and Jane several months to be able to seem this comfortable together. Then again, she and Charlie had never spent over twenty-four straight hours non-stop together during that time either.

Shaking her head, Jane smiled and wagged her finger at them. “You two are both nuts, do you know that?”

“Guilty,” admitted Liz.

“Ditto,” agreed Will.

Charlie came back with a little black case. “Here is the whole shebang. Every charger possible and a travel iron that I’ve never ever used.”

Jane laughed. “I guess not. You don’t even know how to iron!”

Charlie shrugged at his wife’s appraisal of his domestic skills. “I guess it’s a good thing that I’ve never had an emergency that could be solved with an iron when I’ve traveled then!”

Darcy piped up. “That would be what they invented those little bags for that they hang in the closet in hotel rooms, right Chip?”

Pointing to Will, Charlie felt some vindication. “Precisely! I’m helping keep someone employed when I send my clothes to be pressed! My God! The entire economy could collapse if I could iron!”

Liz poked Jane and nodded to the men. “And they say that women are overly dramatic! Are we ready to go?”

Charlie nodded yes. “I think so. I see that you guys didn’t even bother to bring your bags in! Should I be offended or applaud your foresight? Jane, sweetie, what do you think?”

Jane rolled her eyes. “Let’s chalk it up to both and get going. Will, you ride over with Charlie and I’ll go with Be- uh, Liz.”

Liz and Will both began to protest but were quickly shut down by their hosts.

The men got into Charlie’s Saturn Vue Hybrid while Jane and Liz settled into the rental car. Liz waited for Charlie to pull out so she could follow. The moment the engine turned over, Jane’s questions began.

“What on earth are you doing?” asked a very concerned Jane.

Liz sighed. “I’m pretty sure you’re not going to let this go if I answer that I don’t have a clue, right?”

“Not a chance. You’ve only known him for a day. Are you sure that you won’t stay at the house with us? It’s not too late to change your mind.”

“What’s this about? You don’t like him, is that it?” accused Liz.

“Not especially. I can’t explain it really. Before today, he always treated me as if somehow I wasn’t good enough for Charlie, like I was holding him back from doing something important. I think he believed I was a gold-digger or something not far from it. The Will Darcy you brought to my door is not the same man that I’ve met over the last six years. I swear to you, and I’m not joking here, I don’t recall ever seeing that man crack so much as a smile before. And you had him laughing!”

“JJ, thank you for trying to look out for me. I appreciate it, really I do, but I am a big girl and am more than capable of making my own decisions. I can’t explain it, I know it doesn’t make much sense, but he needs me.”

Jane just stared in open wonder. “He needs you? How? For what? Your right, that doesn’t make any sense.”

Liz patted Jane’s shoulder and tried to reassure her sister that she knew what she was doing. “He needs me. That’s all. There’s nothing else to explain really. What’s more, I think that I need him too.”

Jane decided she would support her sister, no matter what. “Okay, if you say so. Above all, I don’t want to see you hurt again. You were so young when that stuff happened when Drew left and…”

“…and I was so naïve? Yes, when Drew left, I thought the world would end. But it didn’t and I lived. That whole business helped me in the long run more than it hurt me. You really need to start worrying about other things. Like Baby Bingley for example.”

“Trying to change the subject?” Liz nodded and Jane continued, “Fine. But if Will hurts you, I’ll kill Charlie who in turn will kill Will. Just so you know.”

They were stopped at a light, so Liz was able to hold both hands up in defeat. “Okay, okay, I get it! Now, let’s talk about the baby!”

In the Bingley’s vehicle, Charlie was both encouraging and cautioning his friend.

“Jane wants you to know that I’ll have to kill you if you hurt my dear Sil.”

“I think I understand. You and Liz are awfully close, aren’t you?”

Charlie chuckled at that. “You’ve met, if only briefly, the rest of the Bennets. Sil is the only remotely sensible one out of the whole lot! When Jane and I were still in New York, we’d see Beth at least every other weekend and I really got to know her. She’s fantastic and the more I learned about my new sister, the more I realized that she’d be perfect for you. Then you had to be an ass to my wife and never say a word whenever you deigned us with your presence. Please tell me you’re over whatever your issue with Jane was.”

“I think so. I suppose I just resented that you’d prefer writing to challenging yourself at Pemberley. I know that sounds terrible, and I’m an appallingly rotten friend for ever having thought that, but there it is. Writing to me just seemed so bohemian or something and you have such a natural talent for problem solving that I saw your writing as a waste of your talent. I blamed, very wrongly I know, Jane as being the reason you stayed here and chose to write. I didn’t get it, but I see it now. All I can say is that I’m sorry.”

Charlie shook his head in disbelief. Will had not stated anything that he hadn’t already suspected, but still, to hear it out loud just sounded terrible. “You really can be a bastard, you know?”

Contritely, Will replied, “I’ve been told so before.”

“You admit you were in the wrong?”

Sensing that Charlie was still processing what he’d said, Will agreed, “Utterly and completely.”

“So you know, Jane is a good, no- a great, woman. She has never held me back from anything. It’s actually me that’s held her back. She was a great model and had many years left if she wanted them. Jane gave it all up for me though, and never thought twice about doing it either. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, she’s funny and most importantly- she loves me. As long as you can treat my wife with the respect that she deserves, we have no problem. That is, unless you hurt Sil. Then there’ll be more trouble than you can imagine!”

Will held up one hand and swore, “I would never intentionally hurt Liz.”

“You better not.”

“I won’t!”

“Good.”

“Chip? Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure Fitz. Fire away.”

“No. This is stupid. Nevermind.”

“No. You can’t do that. Now I need to know! What? What’s your question? I’m very good at this stuff you know.”

Indignant, Will protested. “You can’t say that, you don’t even know what I was going to ask!”

Bingley teased Will. “No, but I have an idea.”

With his arms crossed against his chest, Will chuckled. “You were always so poor at bluffing Chip.”

“Ha! I think you’re confusing me and you. You’re the one that routinely lost every game, not me. Now, since you don’t believe me, I’ll hazard a guess.”

“I don’t believe you can do it, but give it your best shot.” Darcy goaded Bingley.

They had pulled into the parking lot of McGovern’s. Bingley put the car in park and turned to Will and said very seriously, “Alright. You were going to ask something along the lines of ‘how do you know when you’re in love’ or ‘how can you be sure when you’ve met the right woman’.”

Darcy sat with his mouth wide open in shock at the accuracy of his best friend’s guess.

“Close your mouth Will. We’re here and Liz won’t want to go anywhere with you if you look like a carp.”

*Chapter Twenty-Six*

Will was still catching flies when the girls pulled up next to them.

“How on earth do you do that?”

Bingley grinned. “I was always better at reading people than you. It just seems like an amazing skill because you really, well, suck is the only word I can think of right now, at it!”

Darcy frowned and said sarcastically, “Gee, thanks. If that’s the only word you can come up with, perhaps I’d better find you a position at Pemberley after all.”

“A moment of writer’s block. We wordsmiths can’t be brilliant all of the time, now can we?”

“That would suppose that you were brilliant some of the time now, wouldn’t it? Really Chip, you still need to answer the question instead of harassing me.”

“Fitz my old pal, I’d love to help you, but there are some things that, in order to be a man, you just need to figure out on your own.”

Unhappy, Will muttered, “Thanks. That was so helpful. Glad we had this chat.”

“I heard that.”

“That’s because you were meant to. Seriously Chip, I feel way over my head here and I haven’t the slightest clue what to do about it.”

“What did I say earlier? Stop trying to fix everything. You can’t. What I will say is this: when someone is in love, they give over a portion of themselves to another, so that there’s a part that of them they no longer have control over and that involves lots of trust. When you’re able to put your faith and trust in another person, when you can see their needs and well being above your own and when you believe they would do the same for you, that’s a pretty good indicator of love my friend.”

When Will was finished listening to Charlie’s somewhat murky description, his only reply was, “Bloody hell.”

“I think you’re done for my friend.”

“And I think you’ve turned into a woman! What quack touchy-feely shrink want-to-be did you get that from?”

Bingley shrugged, “Oprah.”

Before Will could say another word, there was a tap on his window. Liz pointed to the trunk of the rental and put her hands together in a begging gesture. Will nodded yes, pointed to the building and waved her away with a smile. Just before she ran towards the door of the warm lobby, she rewarded Will with a brilliant smile and blew him a kiss. 

Charlie had born witness to it all. “Yeah and when people develop their own language where they don’t even actually need to talk? That’s a good sign too.”

“Shut up and help me with the bags please.”

Unable to resist, Charlie nodded and blew Will a kiss which was met with a not-so-gentle punch in the arm.

It was only a few minutes later that the guys met up with Jane and Liz in the lobby of the hotel. Liz had finally stopped complaining about the inadequacy of her gloves now that her hands were warmed up. Will came up beside her and saw how white her tiny hand was and covered it with his own much larger and significantly warmer, one.

Liz looked at their hands together and smiled. It was such a small gesture but spoke volumes about how tender this man beside her could be. For a moment she allowed her thoughts to wander as she contemplated other ways that Will might be tender.

Will gave her hand a squeeze to catch her attention. “Love? This fine young man here wants to know which type of room you’d prefer.”

Feeling silly that she’d been caught daydreaming, Liz blushed and said, “Oh? Yes, I don’t imagine with the holiday that there’s very much left. What do you have?”

“Yes ma’am,” the young man who could not have been older than nineteen blushed himself as he went through the available rooms, “I’m afraid all the single rooms are taken. I’m showing that we have three doubles left and just one suite.”

After her musings, a room with two queen beds just didn’t seem very appealing to Liz. “Can you tell us about the suite?”

“Yes ma’am. Our suites are pretty nice and people really seem to like them. It’s got a king-size bed and a large sofa in a separate living room area. They also come with a full kitchen. The fridge even has an icemaker! I only mention that because people really seem to hate having to leave their rooms to go and find the ice machine.”

Liz liked the sound of it but sought Darcy’s opinion. “What do you think Will?”

Not wishing to seem overly enthusiastic that she had chosen the room with one bed instead of two, Will tried to play it cool and answered, “I think it sounds smart.”

Handing the desk clerk her driver’s license and credit card, Liz said, “We’ll take it.”

Once the papers were signed, Charlie and Will hauled the bags to the room and after Jane quickly made her rounds and declared the room to be perfectly cozy, the Bingleys said their goodbyes and reminded Will and Liz that dinner would be at seven.

As the door closed behind them, Will let out a deep breath and smiled. “Alone!”

Liz grinned. “Oh? You wish to be alone? Alright then. I’ll just head back to the lobby and get another room.”

Will shook his head and grinned. “Tease me all you like. We have a few hours alone and care not how we spend them so long as I can spend them alone with you. Did I mention that we’re alone?”

Liz laughed at his exuberance. “Several times in fact. I’m glad to be here with you too Will. Now, don’t play all noble with me, how’s your headache doing?”

“I’ll live. I need to take some more of that stuff. The pills I have at home seem to work better than these.”

“I’m sorry about that, but let me try to help. Hand me your coat and sit down right over there.”

Will did as he was told, ha handed her his coat and took his place on the edge of the bed. He kicked off his shoes and sat cross legged and watched in wonder as Liz began to hang things up in the closet

“As many hotels as I’ve stayed in through my travels, I don’t recall actually hanging anything up. I just usually throw my coat over a chair and hang my garment bag on a hook in the loo.”

Liz tsk-tsked upon hearing that. “Men! Well, I suppose that you may actually learn something, so pay attention.” Liz unpacked her bag, putting most of her things in two drawers and setting her bathroom kit on the dresser. “I’ll move that when I get yours out.” Will nodded and continued to watch her ‘move’ them in to the room. She unzipped his duffel and filled another few drawers with Will’s clothes. She smiled as she held up a Cambridge tee shirt. “See? If you’d have worn this last night, maybe this morning wouldn’t have happened.”

He was determined to show her she wasn’t the only one with an ability to tease. “What? Are you saying that you’d hold having attended Cambridge against me? What a pity, for I don’t regret this morning. Okay, that’s not true- I regret not having an unexpired Durex.”

She instantly blushed bright red. “William!”

“Come now Liz! Am I not allowed to tease you back at least a little?”

She nodded and he answered, “Excellent.”

Liz opened his garment bag and hung the remainder of his things in the closet. She excused herself for a moment as she took their toiletry bags to the bathroom. When she returned, she handed Will a glass of water and two Tylenol.

“Thank you Love.”

“We need your headache to go away, and I’m going to help. That is, after I finish unpacking.”

Liz opened her Pullman and set the Christmas packages on the table and explained, “I’ll be busy with graduation during Christmas and JJ doesn’t really want to travel being pregnant. I know it’s early, but I figured since I was coming, I’d bring their things with me.”

“I wondered about those yesterday.”

She looked at one of the packages for Charlie and traced the letters on the nametag. “Stupid nicknames.”

“But didn’t it say D.B.I.L.? What on earth is the- wait! I’ve got it! Dear? Dear brother-in-law? You, Elisabeth Gardiner, are quite silly.”

“I am. Did you see them all?” she asked, referring to the presents.

“There were quite a few. You’re obviously very generous. Oh.” He remembered at last. “There was one for F! You actually bought me a present? You are amazing, Liz, truly amazing.”

“We’ll see about that. You need to remember, I thought you were an uptight corporate big-wig type guy named Fitz, and the gift very much reflects that.”

“Don’t be worried, I’m sure I’ll love it no matter what it is.”

She now stood before him, playing with the seam of the wrapping. “I’m not so sure.”

“I promise to not be offended, now please?”

Silently, she handed Will the present. “I must tell you, I held no small amount of jealousy when I saw this yesterday. I wanted to be someone whom you’d purchase a gift for. I never imagined that it was a possibility. For a moment, I even pictured someone named Fonzie.”

That made Liz giggle. “Because Fonzie is a much more common name than Fitzwilliam, right?”

“I honestly wouldn’t know. Can I open this now, or do I need to wait for Christmas?”

“Be my guest.”

He carefully removed the paper and opened the flat gift box. Inside there was a book wrapped in tissue paper. Will grinned when her saw the title. That she was clever, he already knew, but her choice of book, Stanley Bing’s What Would Machiavelli Do? The ends justify the meanness, was inspired.

Will grinned. “I love it. I love that you would give this book to someone you believed might listen to this. I’ve seen this before and have actually wanted to read this satire. Thank you.”

Praying he wasn’t really offended, she asked, “Really?”

He patted the space beside him and Liz sat down. He held her hand as he said, “I know we haven’t known each other very long, but you should know me well enough to know that I can appreciate a good spoof when I see one.”

“That’s true. I was pretty aggravated the day I bought it. I’d been excited about seeing JJ but then they sprang the idea of a fix-up on me and I was less than thrilled. Whenever I asked about you, they’d give me such non-committal answers that I was left to draw my own conclusions. I swear I was expecting a short, pudgy, balding, grumpy, greedy, little red-faced sort of man.”

“Your sister doesn’t like me.” It wasn’t stated in any other fashion but fact.

“I think she could, she’s even now starting to. And you didn’t like her first! I suppose it’s hard to recommend someone you’re not fond of.”

Not fond of. I like that better than doesn’t like. Chip wasn’t really much better. I’d ask if you were pretty and he’d tell me you were smart. I’d ask what you were interested in and he’d answer school. I drew my own awful preconceived notions that you were an unappealing spinster with lots of cats. I have never in my life been so glad to be wrong. Where’s Chip? That’s three now.”

Liz snuggled closer to Will, who was now much more aware that they were sitting on a bed, alone, in a hotel room. She looked at Will; he was lost in his thoughts and she could very easily hazard a guess what direction they turned in.

“You want Charlie?” Liz made like she was going to get up. Will shook his head no and pulled her back onto his lap. “Are you sure? I could call him and they’d be right here.”

“No!” he said firmly just before he kissed her. “Alone, Elisabeth!”

“Ah yes. Alone. That brings something else to mind. The book was for when I thought you were some guy named Fitz. Which, while that may be your actual name, is not who you are.”

“I’m not?”

“No, Fitz is the short red-faced baldy. You’re Will, sometimes William, but never are you Fitz! At least that’s what I think.”

“I understand. I could never call you Beth because Beth to me is cat-lady. You’re Liz, Love. Do you mind when I call you Elisabeth?”

“No. Not at all. No one else has ever really called me that either. My mom and dad called me Elisa. I liked it because it sounded like my mom’s name Elise. After she died, my dad couldn’t call me that anymore because he said it hurt too much. That’s when Fran came up with the brilliant idea to call me Beth. So long as you never call me Beth, you can call me whatever you want.”

At that moment, Will Darcy knew himself to be a coward. The one thing he really wanted to call her was “Mine.” He just thought it was too soon and not wishing to frighten her away, he kept his thoughts and feelings to himself. Needing to clear away the idea of declaring his undeniable love for her, for he was positive now that’s what it was- love, he asked, “Before, you said you remembered something. What was it?”

She scrunched her face in the way she always did when she was in deep thought. “I did? That’s right. Okay, so the book was for Fitz. I have something else for Will.”

“You do? Really Liz, you’re too generous. I don’t have anything to give you. I’m sorry.”

Liz stood up and ran to the closet where she’d put her smaller bag. She reached in and pulled out a bag that was marked with the logo of the pharmacy they’d stopped at earlier. Excitedly, she hopped back on the bed next to Will and handed him the bag.

She grinned. “Not very generous at all. I was selfishly hoping that this was something that we could share.”

Will could contain his curiosity no longer and looked in the bag. “I think sharing is a marvelous idea.” 

*Chapter Twenty-Seven*

Liz scooted to a place behind Will on the bed. She kneeled and whispered in his ear, “Me too.”

Wondering why she disappeared, he questioned her. “What are you doing back there?”

“You, Mr. Darcy, are a very tense, and maybe a little intense, man. I’m going to attempt, in my own inept sort of way, to help loosen you up. I think that we’ve had more than our fair share of false starts and ‘not tonight dear I have a headache’ is something I do not want to hear! You need to relax, get some rest and just keep in mind that we have plenty of time. I’m not going anywhere and neither are you.”

She helped him pull his sweater over his head as well as his undershirt. As she gently glided her hands over his neck and shoulders, he let out a low moan of approval. “You are too good to me Love.”

Liz began to massage his shoulder-caps. “Said the man who has put up with no small amount of nonsense from me and my family.”

Will heard the note of apology in her voice and sought to make her understand that all families have their issues. “No. It’s fine. My father was a fine man right up until he became a drunk. If that doesn’t show a serious lack of character, I don’t know what does.”

Liz felt his shoulders tense back up when he spoke of his father. If he kept this up, he’d be in even more knots. Unsure of what to say, she offered, “He was grieving.”

“I understand that, really I do. We all wept for my mum. Most people pull together enough to keep going for their families though. It seems we simply weren’t more important than his self-pity or his scotch.”

Liz kept her hands moving as she tried to think of something to say. Her first instinct was to defend Will’s father and try to make him understand that he had been loved. But when she gave it further thought, she began to doubt her argument. How can a man abandon his teenage son and infant daughter like that? Her own father had been awash in grief but at least hadn’t completely abandoned her.

She kissed the spot where his neck met his shoulder. “I’m so sorry Will. That must have been really hard. The problem was his and that’s what you need to remember.”

“I try.” He sighed. “I’m sorry Liz. I’m such a wonderful conversationalist here, aren’t I?”

Liz hugged Will from behind to reassure him. “William, you can talk about whatever you would like. I get the feeling you don’t get to do this very often, do you?”

Will tried to chuckle. “Spill my guts? No. I really appreciate you listening to me. I think you actually understand me.”

“Our situations are different, but yes, I understand grief and parental disappointment.”

Liz found a spot just to the left of his right shoulder blade that was hard as a rock. She began to smooth it out and Will was amazed at how much better he was beginning to feel.

“You, Love, are a miracle worker! I think we need to move away from the maudlin talk, don’t you?”

“Sure. You pick a new topic.”

Liz was really digging her fingers into his shoulder muscles now. “Excellent. May I ask you another question?”

She was using the heels of her hands on top of his shoulders while her fingers reached down the front of his chest towards his collarbone. “My life is an open book.”

He was beginning to have trouble concentrating. “I have a great, burning need to find out the origin of ‘crud monkey’ and how you came to use it all the time. Please tell me the story. Just don’t be angry of I fall asleep here, it seems I’m putty in your hands.”

“Okay. So lie down in bed and I’ll tell you a bedtime story of how I came to favor using crud monkey instead of swearing.”

“I can’t get into bed wearing jeans…”

She laughed. “Of course not! And the socks need to go too.”

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he unzipped and wriggled out of his jeans. “Yes, I remember. What have you against my socks?”

“Nothing. Underwear and black socks look ridiculous together and, frankly, is not your best look.”

Darcy threw his socks onto the floor and furrowed under the covers. “Really? And what is my best look?”

Liz tucked him in and began to play with his unruly curls. “Oh no. I hadn’t pegged you as a vain man who would fish for compliments!”

“I’m not! Since the socks are clearly not working for you, I thought I’d ask what might.” He grinned.

Liz knew she’d regret this tease, but accepted that she’d take whatever punishment he’d choose to mete out. “Well, from a style standpoint, we have someone at our disposal that would certainly be more than willing to mould you into a fashion icon.”  

Will groaned and sat right up. “Too far! No speaking of Caroline Bingley in bed! Ever!”

Liz giggled and imitated Carrie. “But darling! Surely no one is more qualified to keep you en vogue than moi! Black socks and skivvies are just so outré this season.”

He shook his head and chuckled as he resumed his position under the blankets. “Trouble! You, Elisabeth Gardiner, are trouble woman.”

“What? No retribution? No revenge? I’m a little disappointed, I thought you to be a better adversary than this.”

“I would never wish to be your adversary Love. And as for revenge? I’m fairly certain I can devise a suitable punishment for later that would work to best advantage for both of us.” He stifled a yawn and continued, “For now though, I was promised a bedtime story. And know if you wanted to keep playing with my hair or rubbing my shoulders, I really wouldn’t mind.”

Liz smiled. “Glad to be of service.”

She took her place beside him on the bed and as she begun to stroke his head, he turned away from her so she could continue working out the kinks in his shoulders.

“This is truly wonderful of you Liz. Now, what’s the story behind crud monkey?”

Her fingers twirled in the curls at the base of head while her thumb lightly glided over his neck as she began her tale. “It’s not the most exciting of tales, and I promise that if you fall asleep and begin to snore…”

“I do not snore!”

“Of course you don’t. When you begin to snore, I won’t be offended. Before I begin, are you comfy?”

“Mmm. Yes.”

“Good. So, I think that I’ve given you a pretty good idea that I was a geek as a kid, and that not much has really changed since then. When I was sixteen I was thrilled when I was chosen to be one of two Summer Technology Camp Counselors at Adler- that’s the planetarium in Chicago. It was really cool because for the first time I was being allowed to do something on my own. I took the train every morning like a grown up and headed to the museum campus, grabbing a banana from the White Hen, sorry- that’s a little convenience store, and walked to work each day. It was my first job and I felt so responsible and adult-like. Anyways, though I was a dorky science girl, I was also a tomboy and had learned many, well, colorful metaphors that my young friends like Billy would say. Needless to say, when you’re sixteen it’s hard to break the F-bomb habit. The first week at Adler, we worked getting everything ready for the kids and my choice of words was noted and disapproved by my boss.”

“So on Wednesday of that first week, my boss Emma took me aside and explained that while to get ahead in any scientific field you have to compete with men, you don’t have to be one. She gently reminded me that I was going to be working soon with kids as young as five and while their parents would appreciate all the cool things about science I could teach them, they wouldn’t appreciate their little ones coming home having learned to swear like sailors.”

“Emma and Bob, who was the research fellow at the time, suggested that I try out alternatives. The important thing, you see, was to catch it before you start speaking. Jason, he was the other counselor, and I, we made a deal. We would actually punch each other in the arm each time we swore. I kid you not when I say that my bruise was still visible in August. We tried out some crazy alternative phrases, but none seemed to stick or seemed right. By Friday, I could hardly raise my arm! However, I was determined that I would be a good example for the kids and resolved to not swear at home either.”

“That weekend, my family went to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Mimi, CC and LiLi were all still really young and loved going all the time. LiLi was fascinated by the DeBrazza’s monkeys. The zoo had a large troop and they would fling everything around in their enclosure. That Saturday they were really active and the largest of the group, I guess he was the Alpha, was flinging fruit rinds at the other males. The screeching grew louder and when he was out of fruit, he began to throw monkey poop.”

Will sleepily interjected, “That’s disgusting.”

“Yes, it was, but to little kids it was fascinating! The crowd grew larger and larger and the monkeys must have loved having an audience because they began to jump around all the more. Soon, the younger monkeys got in on the action and the Plexiglas was covered in all manner of waste. Then came, I promise I’m not making this up, then came what JJ and I have named the ‘primate pissing contest’. There were three monkeys in a tree all swinging and trying to pee on each other.”

Darcy sighed, “Lovely.”

“I know! It was such a spectacle. LiLi was enthralled though and she was on Pop’s shoulders crying out about how the monkeys were cruddy. She just kept repeating it over and over. The rest of the day, whenever we wanted to make her or CC giggle, all we had to say was ‘cruddy monkey’ and they’d laugh until they were nearly sick. Mimi was always too serious and told us all we were being childish. Mind you, she couldn’t have been more than ten at the time. Anyways, ‘cruddy’ was eventually shortened to ‘crud’ and subsequently came to mean any unappealing situation. When I headed back to work on Monday, Emma laughed so hard that she shot soda out of her nose when she heard me utter ‘crud monkey’. I’ve honestly never dropped another F-bomb since. I will own that certain other words have made their way into my vocab over the years, but I’ve come to appreciate that I spent a lot of time and money on my education and it doesn’t make any sense to use such vulgar language. Working ‘blue’ just doesn’t do it for me. There. Now you have the whole story. I hope it wasn’t too great a disappointment.”

“Hmm? No, it wasn’t. It’s catchy you know, I’ve said it myself. I can see it sweeping London.” He yawned again.

The alarm on Liz’s phone went off. “It’s that time again.” Liz bent over and kissed Will on the cheek. “Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back and continue taking care of you.”

“Mm-hmm.”

Liz got up from the bed and took a long look at Will. His eyes were closed and there was no longer any trace of the tension that had been so visible earlier. She smiled as she knew he would be snoring soundly when she returned. Heading to the bathroom, Liz reviewed what a long and strange day it had been already, and the worst had yet to come!

She took her sugar reading, and it was a very stable 122. Saying a silent prayer of thanks for the power of basal-dose insulin, she freshened up by washing her face and brushing her teeth. Liz wanted to give Will a chance to fall into a deep slumber. The poor man had not had much rest and seemed in desperate need of some. Other activities would keep for now.

After having dawdled in the bathroom as long as she could, she reentered the room. He was now on his back with one arm slung over his head and the other folded across his chest. The loud noise emanating from his chest could only be described as snoring. Liz decided a nap sounded like a fine plan and she changed into her shorts and tee so she could join him. She set the alarm on her phone so they would have plenty of time to restore their appearances before they were due at the Bingleys and set her phone up to charge.

 She remembered Will’s needed to charge also and grabbed the converter from his coat. Not knowing where he had stashed his Blackberry, she began a quiet search of her own. It wasn’t in his coat, his bags were now empty, and that left his jeans. As she picked them up from the floor, Liz smiled. The weight of them told her she’d found it. She retrieved his phone, plugged it in and turned it on. Liz looked about the room, all seemed well and so she made her way over to the bed and was about to get in when there was a knock on the door.

Frustrated, she walked over to the door and hissed, “Go away! Can’t you read? The sign says do not disturb!”

“Let me in Elisabeth, it’s your father.”

 

*Chapter Twenty-Eight*

 “Pop? What are you doing here?”

“I came to talk to you. Let me in please, I don’t want to do this through the door.”

“Fine.” She said as she reluctantly opened to door. “How did you find me?”

“It wasn’t hard. I called and asked JJ where you were and she told me. I left the girls at the mall and came right here. The clerk at the desk offered to call your room, but I told him it wasn’t necessary, and then I came right up.”

Liz admonished her dad. “You really should have called first.”

 Looking at the clothes strewn about the room and seeing Will undressed in bed, Tom Bennet said, “I think that’s stating the obvious. What the hell are you doing here with him Elisa?”

Affronted by her father’s assumptions, even though they were not far from the truth, she shot back, “What does it look like? Escaping from all of you! We were promised a quiet weekend with JJ and Charlie and instead you thought it’d be funny to bring the circus to town!  I’ve seen it before and have no desire to be in the freak-show right now, thanks.”

“So you’re shacking up with this guy? I thought I taught you better than that Elisa!”

“What exactly is it you think that you taught me Pop? Really, I’m curious. ‘Cause the lessons I remember particularly well are how to avoid problems, how to let everyone else take responsibility for your mistakes, how to ignore your children, how to get roped in by a money-grubbing bitch, shall I continue?”

“I think you’ve said enough.”

Liz wanted to yell, she wanted to scream, but she heard Will snoring and knowing he needed to sleep gave her the ability to keep somewhat calm. “Really? Because I don’t think I’ve said near enough!”

“I was a rotten father, I get it. Now you can stand her and continue to verbally abuse me some more or you can hear me out and let me tell you something you need to know.”

Liz pulled her father into the living area of the suite. “I’m listening.”

“He’s been calling again.”

Liz’s eyes grew wide in fear. “No! Why can’t you stop this?”

“He says that he needs your forgiveness and it’s your duty to listen to him.”

Shaking her head, Liz swore, “I can’t ever forgive him. Can you?”

Tom answered sheepishly, “I actually already have.”

Liz was unable to control her anger now. “What? How? Get out! I don’t want to see you right now.”

He tried to get her to calm down so he could plead his case. “Just listen for a moment, please?”

She warned him. “One minute, and this had better be change-my-life good.”

“A while ago Fran made me go to some conference where they were speaking about how much life would be better once you get rid of all your anger and baggage. I had to let the anger I’ve carried about your mother and Daniel go. You really should too.”

Liz began to tremble and her voice was shaky as she said, “Oh my God! You sound like him! Was this his idea? It was, wasn’t it? No, I will not play this game! I can’t believe you’re on his side! What happened to the man who had sworn to uphold the law? Where is he? It looks to me like it doesn’t matter that the man has stalked me to the point where I had to get a restraining order and change my name! You were my daddy! Just because he feels bad now and says he wants to make amends doesn’t mean that I have to.”

“He brought up the book deal again.”

She coldly laughed, “That’s awesome! He kills my mother and my brother, I have to ride in an ambulance with him to the hospital where I watched his life get spared and now he wants to profit from it? Like hell! He’s tried this before and he needs to remember that I have better lawyers.”

He tried to touch her arm. “Beth… please, would you just…”

She shook him off and yelled, “No! Do not call me Beth! Don’t call me Elisa either for that matter. In fact, don’t call me at all. You can go to hell Tom, and join Fran there while you’re at it!”

“Okay. I understand if that’s how you feel. I just thought that you deserved to know that Fran has been talking to him and after being blindsided once today, you didn’t deserve to be caught unaware again. Can I ask you one question before I go?”

Sighing, Liz threw up her hands and said, “Sure, why not?”

“Are you serious about moving to London? JJ says that it’s a sure thing.”

Liz corrected her father. “It’s Ruislip. And yes, I’m very serious.”

“Why? For him?”

Rolling her eyes, she answered, “Yes, Pop. I’ve worked for years to get my doctorate on the off-chance that I could get a job with NATO, so I could move to England to be with a guy that, of course, would happen to have known my future brother-in-law. In fact, I’ve had this diabolical plan in the works since I was ten. This is something that I’ve worked for a long time, and while I expect Will to be an important part of my life, this is something I’m doing for me. Do you understand that?”

“No. I really don’t. But then, I haven’t understood you in years. What was wrong with Drew?”

“Drew? Seriously? You didn’t like Drew either, and you know what? If it had been right, it wouldn’t have mattered. Drew wasn’t enough of his own man and I even learned something important about myself: growing up with you as an example of a man taught me that I have no wish to live with a coward.”

“I am still your father…”

“Of that, I’m well aware. Don’t worry daddy, I’ll still send checks out to Arizona, but do me one last favor? Tell JJ and Charlie if they wish to see us, they know where to find us.”

“Wait a minute! I’m not done with you young lady.”

“What now? Are you going to lecture me some more about religion? I believe in God, we’re not always on the best of terms, but I do. I swear that if you try dragging me out to that desert charlatan of Fran’s again, that’s the end. You needn’t worry about my soul or anything; you’ve done your ‘duty’ and now can leave with a clear conscience. Now, please leave, it’s been a really long day and I need a nap.”

 Tom looked towards the bed and disgusted with his daughter’s perceived loose morals said, “Nice! So you’re okay with stealing away Carrie’s fiancé then? I thought she was your friend. She’s at the mall right now contemplating where they should register. I can’t believe I’ve raised a whore.”

She was stung by his cruel words. “Wow. Thanks for that dad. Whore? I don’t think so. Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m pretty sure that at age twenty-seven having slept with a grand total of two men does not make me a whore. And you need to know that Carrie is delusional. Will was never, has never, nor will ever have anything to do with her. She’s a nut-job and if you ask Charlie, he’ll tell you so.”

Confused, Tom asked, “Why didn’t he say so before?”

“Because it would hurt her reputation and might damage his and Will’s too.”

“Right. His reputation. Is he after your money?”

Liz laughed. “Good lord no! He’s got even more than I do. As to reputation, you can have nothing more to say, since you so obviously don’t even care about mine, why would anyone else’s matter, right?”

“What do you even know about this Will?”

“I know that he’s the best of men and I trust him implicitly. He’s witty, smart and tender and why am I telling you any of this? You have no business knowing my concerns.”

“You are still my daughter and whether you choose to believe me or not, I love you very much and only want what’s best for you.”

Ha! What was best for me would have been having a father who didn’t let my stepmother stick me in a tutu and try to make me part of a freak-show. For crying out loud, you weren’t even man enough to let me be me. You gave her carte blanche to change me into someone else. Thanks a lot dad! What’s best for me…what a joke.”

“Don’t believe me, it’s up to you. I do love you, and I love all my girls.”

“I love you too, Pop, and that’s what makes this so damn hard. You’ve changed so much, today is just the last straw. You come here and you demand things of me that I cannot do and then sit in judgment over me for the things I can? I’m all grown up and am quite capable of making my own decisions. If they turn out to be mistakes, so be it! They’ll be mine and that’s fine with me.”

Tom was about to leave, but thought he’d try to reach her another way. “Is there anything I can do to change your mind about coming to dinner?”

“I don’t know Pop.”

“What if I can keep Fran at bay?”

“I suppose there’s a first time for everything. You did come here to warn me, so I guess you’re at least a little sincere. It would look odd if we both didn’t show up. We’ll come, but only on the condition that: a) you keep Fran from running her mouth about him and b) you keep your own mouth shut about me and Will. We discussed this with JJ and Charlie and decided the best plan is to play everything casual. We don’t need to set her off because none of us have any idea what will happen if she gets wind of us.”

“I can do that. Do we at least have a truce?”

“Yes. I think I can agree to that.”

“Can I ask you one more thing Liz? Do you love this Will guy?”

“Yes. I think I do.” Liz thought about it for a moment and realized she’d misspoke. “No, I know I do.”

Tom looked pained by her answer but kept it out of his reply. “Fine. I’m warning you though, he can have as much money at Bill Gates, but if he hurts you, I’ll hurt him.”

Liz smiled. “You’re in line behind Billy then.”

“Billy’s a good boy. I always did like him.”

“Yeah, I know. You’d like Will too if you got to know him.”

Looking around Liz to take another look at the man who’d stolen his little girl’s heart, Tom muttered, “I somehow doubt it.”

Liz realized she hadn’t heard any snoring in some time and wondered just how much Will had heard. There would no doubt be a long conversation when her father left. “He even likes Monty Python.”

He gave a small smile as he shook his head. “Bah. He looks like an Idle fan to me. Or worse a Terry Jones.”

Liz laughed at that and stated, “Nah, Terry Jones would be a deal-breaker. You really need to give Will a chance. Please?”

Turning serious, Tom nodded. “Of course I’ll give him a chance. If he’s that important to you, then I suppose I must. Charlie likes him too, right?”

“They’re the best of friends, like brothers actually.” Liz assured him.

“Well, see? If I can tolerate Bingley, I’m sure I can deal with your fella too.”

Liz reached out and touched her father’s shoulder. “That’s all I ask. I do love you Pop. It’s just that you need to let me be. And I swear, if Fran utters one word about him, I’ll grab Will and bolt.”

Reaching up to touch her hand, Tom said, “Okay. I’ll explain to her that her ‘allowance’ is in jeopardy if she brings it up.”

“I still don’t understand how you stay married to that woman, Pop. She’s abominable.”

“Now Liz, it wasn’t all bad, was it?”

“No, it wasn’t. I actually was just telling the crud monkey story to Will just a little while ago.”

He laughed. “I’d almost forgotten about that. Do you still say it?”

“All the time.”

Tom Bennet shuffled his feet. “Well, as much fun as this has been… I need to get back to the mall before they realize that I’m gone.”

“How exactly did you ditch them?”

“I handed Fran a credit card and told her I was heading to Barnes and Noble.”

She giggled at that. “Oh yes. God forbid anyone would ever wish to follow you into a bookstore!”

“I’m gonna take off now, okay Liz? Are we cool?”

“Yeah, we’re cool enough for now Pop. Just stick to your word and we’ll be fine.”

He opened the door and as he left, turned to say, “I love you, Elisa.”

As she shut the door, she whispered, “Love you too, Pop.”

*Chapter Twenty-Nine*

 It was now Liz’s turn to lean on the door as Darcy had done earlier. Under her breath, she muttered that word that seemed to elude them. “Alone.”

Liz sat on Will’s side of the bed and gently prodded him as he appeared to still be sleeping. “So, Mr. Fakey-Fakerson, I know you’re awake.”

Will moaned as he rolled over. “How? How did you know?”

“At some point you stopped snoring.”

“I do not snore!”

Unwilling to debate him, she conceded. “Fine. At some point you stopped rumbling your chest in a manner that closely replicates very loud snoring.”

“I really didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”

“No, I’m sure you’d rather have slept. So, at point in the discussion with my dad did you wake up?”

Darcy lifted the blanket up and pulled Liz in beside him. “I think I became fully awake when your dad confessed he was a rotten father. I’m so sorry Love.”

“It’s alright. I’ve shoved so many of those feelings away for so long that they just all spilled out today. He can be so infuriating and I know very well that I can get hot-headed too, but honestly, he asks too much.”

Will was still angry on Liz’s behalf. “I wasn’t sure what I should do. I was ready to toss your father out on his ear for his rudeness and insults, and then… when he called you a… when he said… I mean how could he say, or even think, such things?”

She sighed in exasperation before she spoke. “We have more than a few issues that go back a long time. I promise I’ll fill you in on all the gory details.”

Will nodded. “He can say or think whatever he likes about me, I couldn’t give a toss if he likes me or not, so long as you do. I just need you to know that should I hear him speak to you like that again, I cannot vouch that I’ll stay calm.”

“I’m very glad you didn’t interfere. This was my fight, and while I appreciate that you want to defend my honor, I really needed to stand up to him on my own.” She rewarded him with a kiss. “I am curious though, what made you realize that you needed to play possum?”

Possum? I don’t like the sound of that at all. I was hardly playing dead out of fear, thank you. Liz, I really have been paying attention to you and the things that you’ve said. I’m working on ways to not be so presumptuous. Even Chip admonished me earlier for always trying to ‘fix’ things.”

Liz took a moment to study Will. He was so earnest in his efforts and even the worst of his mistakes were made while attempting to make things better for others. Though her head kept trying to use logic to convince her it was too soon, her heart for once over-ruled her brain. Liz knew with absolute certainty that she loved him. “I think you’re a sweet, wonderful man and while your impulse to want to help others is admirable, learning when to step in and when to step back can only make you even more sweet and wonderful.”

Will hugged her close. “Liz Love? Can I tell you something?”

She nestled against his chest. “Only if it’s something good.”

He kissed her head. “I think so. At least I hope so.”

“Then be my guest.”

Will lifted her chin so he could see her face. She now looked as tired and worn as he had earlier. To him, she was still the most beautiful woman in the world. Liz looked at him with anticipation, her eyes questioning what he had to say. He gently kissed her lips, then the tip of her nose and then her forehead. She gave a small smile at his tender gesture as she waited for him to speak.

Holding Liz in his arms, he smiled at her as he said what was in his heart. “I know I love you too.”

Her small smile grew larger as her eyes began to water. “Really? You don’t have to say that just to make me feel better… it’s really not necessary. I’d much rather you not say anything than say something you don’t really mean. If…”

Will stopped her from rambling on in the best way he knew- he kissed her. “Do I seem like a man who says things just to be contrary? I know it’s soon, and probably not normal… but maybe just this once normal is over-rated?”

Liz nodded yes and stated, “Normal is over-rated. I love you too, Will.”

“Excellent. That wasn’t near as painful as I thought it might be.”

“Wait!” Liz said, clearly bemused by his admission. “Are you trying to say that you thought loving me might be painful?”

Will spun her over so she was in the middle of the bed. He pinned her down with his left hand while he began to tickle her with his right. “Never! I am fairly confident that loving you Elisabeth could only be pleasurable.”

“William!” Liz squealed as she tried in vain to defend herself against his welcome attack. “I give up! I surrender!”

He slowed down his movements until he was barely touching her. “You haven’t heard the terms yet!”

“It doesn’t matter! I trust you! Now Will, please stop teasing me!” Liz begged.

“Very well then.” He said as he rolled over, once again taking Liz with him. He was flat on his back with both hands behind his head while she was now in position to torture him at her leisure.

Liz laughed at his antics. “William! What are you doing?”

He smirked. “You asked me to stop teasing you and as I’m striving to be less bastardly, it occurred to me that I ought to do as I was told.”

“But I thought I already surrendered?”

“Yes, but I’d much rather be your prisoner than have you as mine.”

That drew a laugh from Liz. “That sounds unbelievably sappy you know.”

“Just so long as I don’t begin to sound like Chip! He was quoting Oprah to me today.”

Intrigued, she asked, “Really? Live your life to the fullest and all that nonsense?”

“Something like that. He was wondering when I was going to tell you that I loved you.”

Liz was giddy upon hearing this. “This is stunning news! Are you in danger now? Men wearing dark sunglasses aren’t about to invade us, are they? I didn’t think men were allowed to admit that they discuss feelings with other men! Can they revoke your man-card for that?”

“Yes, yes. Make fun. Very good. I did tell Chip he sounded like a woman. Does that count as revoking a man-card?”

“William Darcy! Be serious for a minute!”

“I think my problem was being serious for much too long. Thank you Liz.”

“For?”

“Loving me.”

It was her turn to smirk now. “I haven’t done that… yet.”

Will’s voice was filled with desire as he uttered, “Elisabeth…”

She began to kiss his neck and chin. “I don’t want to wait anymore Will.”

While he could still think, he asked, “What about your father?”

In a very poor imitation of Will, Liz stated in as low a voice as she could muster, “Too far! No speaking of my father in bed! Ever!”

Will laughed. “I don’t sound like that, do I?”

“Of course not, you sound much sexier than that.”

Having been taken completely by surprise, Will stammered, “What? No. You’ve lost your mind, I think.”

“No, my mind is quite sound, thank you. I will have you know that you, William Darcy, are by far the sexiest man I have ever seen.”

“That may be true as I hear they don’t you out of your lab much though except to feed and not feed your cat who is and isn’t there.”

Her eyes smiled while she laughed. “I am so proud of you! You made a physics joke! If I wasn’t already yours, I would be now!”

Now you tell me! I’ve had the most alluring, beautiful, sexy, witty woman with me all this time and all I needed to do was tell a joke? All that time, wasted!”

“William? We need to shut up now.”

Now? What about London? Or your father? Tutus? And the stalker-guy? And Drew?”

“We’ll talk. I promise you. Really, I know there’s a lot to cover… but later! It will keep. I, however, cannot wait much longer!” To prove her point, she pulled her tee over her head and banished it to the floor with the rest of their clothes.

“I really do love you Elisabeth Gardiner.”

“Well, William Darcy, I really do love you too.”

Moments later, the rest of the clothes were tossed aside and Liz’s purchase from the chemist was put to immediate and very good use. After all the miscues, interruptions, false starts, headaches and unannounced company, Will and Liz were rewarded at last with a blissful half-hour of uninterrupted alone time.

Will’s Blackberry buzzed and threatened to disturb the wondrous haze they’d been enjoying in the wake of their activity. Deciding that getting up required too much effort, Will mused aloud, “I didn’t even really miss the damn thing when it was off for twenty-four hours. I should do that more often.”

Knowing he was most likely never without his phone, she fretted a little. “Don’t you need to see who that was? What if it was important? Or your sister?”

Darcy chuckled. “You’ll like this- whenever Georgie rings it plays ‘always look on the bright side of life’. The office, and everyone else, can hang for now.”

Happy he hadn’t moved, she burrowed against his chest as she admitted, “I’m glad JJ convinced me to leave my Mac at home. I’d have been so focused on prepping for my oral and I would have missed everything.”

He turned to look at her. “How do you mean?”

“In the rental office. I’d have been looking at my Mac and wouldn’t have noticed you being so rude.”

“Truly? Well, I think I am growing to like your sister very much indeed. Seems she’s bloody brilliant.”

Liz nodded and began to play with the soft hair on his chest.

Will stayed her hand. “You might not want to do that Love.”

She arched a brow at him in curiosity. “Why not?”

As her hand trailed further down his chest, his voice hitched while he answered, “Perhaps I was wrong. How are we fixed for time?”

Her hand persisted in its undercover exploration as she firmly declared, “I don’t care. We get there when we get there.”

He began some explorations of his own. “Splendid. Now, help me refresh my memory how this works.”

Liz giggled as she struggled to try to stay somewhat still while he attended her most ticklish spots. “William! It’s only been like five minutes! You can’t tell me that it was so unmemorable that you’ve forgotten already!”

 “Oh Liz, memorable doesn’t begin to do it justice.” He blew raspberries on her shoulder. “However Love, practice makes perfect and I think, in this, we must be diligent!”

Fully laughing from his overwhelming assault of silliness, she teased, “Are you saying there’s room for improvement?”

Will looked up at her and grinned. “Well, we’ll never know if we don’t apply ourselves now will we?”

They applied themselves, with great enthusiasm, several more times before the alarm on Liz’s phone signaled that it was time to get ready for dinner at the Bingley’s.

*Chapter Thirty*

Darcy watched Liz in fascination as she scurried about the room, picking up their clothes and tidying up. “You can leave that for later. We won’t be gone all night.”

She smiled as she picked up his infamous black socks. “I usually never let a room even get like that! Seems I was somehow…  distracted earlier.”

Will flopped onto the center of the bed and proudly grinned.

Liz shook her head and laughed at Darcy. “Yes, you! And what a distraction!”

“Thank you. Pleased to be of service. It’s only fair since you’ve driven me mad since I first laid eyes on you.”

Liz shook her head. “I highly doubt that! If I remember accurately, I called you a bastard.”

Still grinning, Will corrected her, “Not true Love. You scolded me for my abominable rudeness, but I don’t think you actually were calling me a name.”

“Okay. Regardless, I was nearly as rude as you were if you really consider the circumstances. I find it hard to believe I could have, in any way, shape or form, driven you ‘mad’.”

“You weren’t rude at all. As for driving me mad, you did, well, you do! You are kind- obviously since you put up with me, your sense of humor matches my own, you’re brilliant, and you are beyond beautiful. When you give me that certain look you get when you’re aggravated…yes! That very look, I just want to hold you and kiss you until we’re both insensible!”

Having never been able to take a compliment, she blushed. “You are certifiable William Darcy!”

“Is that so Elisabeth Gardiner? If I am, I think that you must be to blame… since we are speaking of my certain madness and all.”

She picked up his previously discarded football boxer shorts. Holding them up, she teased him, “And to think that I had thought you were so nice and normal.”

“Those are my favorites. Besides, normal is over-rated. And for a girl that wears imaginary cat shirts, I think supporting my team that actually exists is pretty normal.”

Liz laughed at his defensive tone. “Really? Wearing underwear, which no one else sees, supports your team? How does that work?”

Haughtily, Will pointedly said, “You saw them! Besides, it’s a mutually supportive thing.”

Liz rolled her eyes and groaned. “Mutually supportive? Alright, I’m officially impressed. You support them, and in turn, they support you. Very clever Will.”

“I thought so.”

Liz bent over to grab the last sock up off the floor, which caused Will to complain, “You’re killing me Liz!”

Standing up, she looked quizzically at the sock and asked, “How so?”

It was Will’s turn to groan. “Unless your wish is to never make it to Chip’s tonight, you really need to quit fluttering about the room like that! If you bend over and show me your bottom one more time, I’ll have to scoop you up, take you back to bed and ravish you as punishment for torturing me!”

“Really?” Liz purposefully let the sock drop to the floor. She giggled as she dramatically put the back of one hand on her forehead and the other cupped her cheek. While employing the same look Will had spoken of earlier, she saucily asked, “Oops. Whatever shall I do now?”

“Elisabeth!” warned Will in a low, husky voice.

As she moved to pick up the troublesome sock, Will was off the bed in a flash and made good on his promise to scoop her up in his arms.

“Will!” she shrieked in the midst of her laughter, “we really can’t do this right now!”

He tossed her in the middle of the bed, in the very spot he had just vacated. “You, madam, were well-warned of the consequences.”

“I only meant…” she was unable to finish her sentence because she found her mouth otherwise occupied.

Once Will had kissed her insensibly, he said, “I know exactly what you meant Love. That is only one of the ways that you make me mad.”

Still breathless, all she could manage to say was, “Oh.”

After a moment spent quietly regaining their composure, Liz turned towards Will and asked, “How are we supposed to walk into dinner and pretend we aren’t together?”

They both sat up and moved to the edge of the bed. He motioned for her to come closer and she snuggled comfortably in his arms. “I’ve given this a lot of thought, Love. Caroline is perhaps the most narcissistic person I’ve ever met. You’ve known her these last few years; surely you’ve seen what I mean?”

Liz cautiously added her thoughts, “While she is a bit taken with herself, she truly has only ever been genuinely nice to me. Deluded or not, I’d hate for her to think I stole her man.”

Will began to protest but she continued, “That you were never really hers doesn’t matter. She is Charlie’s sister and whether I like it or not, she’s sort of a part of this family.”

“I’ve thought about those things too. I think that we just do the best we can. It will be difficult and most likely uncomfortable, but I think we can do this. Watch each other’s back, right?”

Liz rewarded him with a smile. “Absolutely. So, we agree to play this by ear then? “

He agreed. “I think it would be for the best. Now, I believe you promised to fill in some details, did you not? I’d hate for us to walk into an ambush.”

Liz shuddered a bit as she gave a nervous laugh. “Ambush? Are you sure you haven’t eaten with my family before? Ambush is a very apt description!”

He kissed her and said in a tone that meant business, “No Love, you know that I have not. You are stalling.”

 “Guilty. Okay. First, you need to understand that my Pop is ninety-five percent bluster. The cavalier and brash attitude that was his cop persona seems to have stuck with him and he comes off rather uncaring and harsh. He’s usually a push-over, a bit gruff, but a push-over nonetheless.”

Will listened to her defend her father until he was brimming with anger. “He called you a whore! I’d say that’s more than a bit ‘gruff’. I swear to you, if he should make such remarks about you again, he will have to answer to me. I love you Elisabeth and I cannot stand idly by and watch him hurt you again. You’ve suffered too much.”

Liz was beginning to like this new idea of having a defender. “I love you too Will. Thank you. I suppose I’ve been making excuses for him for long enough. Enough about Pop for now, I need to explain about John Thorpe.”

“Who is John Thorpe?”

“He’s the man who ruined my life. He’s the guy who killed my mom. While he was in jail, some well-meaning prison missionary-type person ‘saved’ him- or helped him to get saved- or whatever. Anyways, on my eighteenth birthday, lucky me, I get a visit from the newly-paroled John who begs my forgiveness and proceeds to tell me that if I don’t forgive him, that my soul is going to go to hell. Naturally, I did what any other eighteen-year-old did when faced with their mom’s murderer- I told him to go to hell.”

Will hugged her close. “I cannot believe that he would have the nerve to seek you out like that! That must have been so overwhelming for you, Love.”

“It was. I demanded he leave and my Pop came out and flashed his badge and his gun, explaining that he was not welcome and that he would report this violation to John’s parole officer. Over the next few months, he called, he sent notes, he drove up and down my street. When he would catch me out with friends, he’d tell me he couldn’t live without my forgiveness and I told him that was fine with me.”

“He really stalked you? What did you do?”

“I was enrolled at Northwestern as a freshman and was really looking forward to settling into my classes and just being normal. I wanted to stay close to home for my undergrad work but then John came calling constantly. He even broke into my dorm and left me some religious tracts and a long note about how much he’d hate to see me in hell because I was so unforgiving. Finally, my Pop helped me obtain some really excellent lawyers and because we now had hard evidence against him, we sought out and were granted stricter restraining orders. He violated them within a week and was jailed again. I took the rest of the semester off and began to change my identity. The plan to sell the house was already underway and since Jane was already in New York, it made sense to go east while the rest of the family went west. Gardiner was my mom’s name and I kinda like having it, like a keepsake of her.”

Taking a deep breath, she continued, “Anyways, John periodically tries to contact me through my lawyers and he knows where the Bennets are. He wrote a book a few years ago and has this grand idea that he’s now an expert on changing lives for the better. Because, of course, everyone should stalk the family members of their victims, right? Fran sees this as another way to get famous, I think. Out in Arizona it seems like they’ve found the same dogma that John follows. Fran and I had a shouting match last Fourth of July because she thinks if John gets his book published, that maybe they’ll make it into a movie and then I’d get royalties or revenue that, of course, I’d share with them. She’s even nuttier than he is. My Pop, for reasons I’ve never been able to understand, lets her be crazy and our father-daughter bond is pretty broken at this point, but then you had a first-hand account of that this afternoon, didn’t you?”

“It was pretty unavoidable. So this Thorpe character is the ‘he’ you spoke of earlier? How your father can even suggest you give the matter any consideration at all is really beyond the pale. I am so sorry Elisabeth. What can I do for you to help you get through this evening?”

She smiled at his care and concern for her comfort. This spoke volumes to her of exactly what kind of heart beat within William Darcy’s chest. He was so kind, considerate and loving, which were characteristics that were largely lacking in her own family.

“If you can keep the Bennets at bay, I’ll tackle Caroline for you. If you promise not to laugh too much, I’ll even let her have her little fashion show.”

“I can do that for you Love. However, I was completely serious when I said that if your father should say anything hurtful again, I will put an immediate end to it.”

“Thank you Will. I feel like I have my very own knight in shining armor. I need to give you a token of some sort to carry into battle, right? What would you like, Sir Darcy?”

Will grinned. “Sir Darcy? Very well then, as a token, milady, I claim your heart and another kiss.”

Liz returned his smile. “My heart you already have and as for a kiss, I think we can arrange that.”

Will stood up and stretched his back. Holding his hand out to Liz, he beckoned, “Come, Liz. I think the sooner we get going, the sooner we can get back here.”

Liz took his hand and stood in front of him and teased, “But Sir Darcy, what about your token? Have you changed your mind?”

He enfolded her in his arms and gave her assurance.“Not at all. However, if I were to kiss you once more while we were lying there in that bed, we’d never make it to the Bingley’s. Damn. On second thought…”

Liz giggled and dearly wished they could just stay there too. “Claim your kiss then and let’s go slay the dragons.”

Sir Darcy claimed his kiss from the fair lady and, as she was such a generous lady, she freely offered him a few more.

Hand in hand, they left their room and steeled themselves for whatever might come next.

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Out of Reservations by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.