Out of Reservations

 

*Chapter One*

The loud baritone voice boomed through the small office, “Bloody hell! What do you mean you over-booked the reservations?”

The frightened, mousy rental agent shakily apologized, “I am sorry sir, but these mistakes do occasionally happen. Not enough cars have been returned on time for us to have one here for you now.”

The man narrowed his gaze and quizzed once again, “You seriously have no cars, of any class, left at all?”

The agent was near tears now. “No sir, due to the holiday, everyone else is booked solid too. Our last vehicle was rented no more than ten minutes ago. I am so very sorry.”

The man huffed in frustration, “I’m sure you are.”

Turning from the counter, he whipped his Blackberry out of his breast-pocket and in an instant had his assistant on the phone. “Reynolds? There’s been a cock-up at the rental agency and,” he turned to glare again at the agent, “they claim to have no cars. Make something happen and make it fast.”

Reynolds loved a challenge and working for Will Darcy was most certainly a challenge.

“Sir, I’m sorry but according to the online inventories, she’s right. The other agencies are all out too. Give me a moment and I’ll see what I can scramble up for as far as a car service goes.”

Darcy groaned. He hated waiting almost as much as he hated being stuck in airports.

Darcy could hear Reynolds furiously typing away, trying to come up with a solution. “Sir?” Reynolds asked with uncharacteristic meekness.

With irritation clear in his voice, Darcy answered, “Yes, Reynolds?”

“It’s snowing in Chicago, sir.”

“So glad I pay you to inform me of what I can plainly see!” snapped Darcy.

Hesitatingly, Reynolds said, “Today is American Thanksgiving.”

Darcy barked, “I’m aware of that. It’s what brought me to this damned country in the first place.”

“Everything’s closed down or booked. Sir, it looks like the only option is to hail a cab. The snow is supposed to get much worse. I’m sorry, sir.”

Darcy sighed and said with a hint of apology in his voice, “Thank you Reynolds.” Then he ended the call without waiting for the reply.

A new country was heard from, “You don’t need to be such a bastard to everyone.”

Darcy spun to see from where the comment sprang. If the agent had dared to make such a remark to him, there would be hell to pay.

Darcy began to brusquely say, “I don’t..”, but he was interrupted when the voice spoke again, “It is Thanksgiving and everyone’s a little stressed out already. Take it easy and relax. Nothing could be that important that you have to bite everyone’s heads off.”

Darcy was about to rage when he was arrested by the sight before him. Though he was unused to being spoken to in such a manner, he was sure he could let it go just this once. The pretty, calming voice that had admonished him belonged to one of the most striking women he’d ever seen. She wasn’t beautiful by the classical definition, nor was pretty the right word. This woman was simply irresistible with her natural good looks and disarming smile. There was a mischievous glint in her uncommonly fine eyes that made Darcy wish to know the source of her mischief. He had not realized that he’d been staring at her until she cleared her throat to get his attention.

Darcy then did something he’d not done since he was a teenager. He blushed. The fact that he’d been caught gaping at this woman who’d scolded him for bad behavior only brought back to mind why he’d flown to the U.S. in the first place. His best friend had this absurd notion of setting him up with his sister-in-law because as Bingley had said, “You need someone who’ll tell you when you’re being an arse.” Though Darcy eventually wanted a wife, he wasn’t especially looking for one at the moment and he was damn certain a set-up with Bingley’s spinster sister-in-law wasn’t going to be the “One”.

Realizing he’d been beastly, or at least more so than normal, he turned and apologized to the agent.

He spoke contritely, “Miss? I am sorry for my attitude. I’m frustrated, I don’t want to be here and I took it out on you though none of that is your fault. Please accept my sincerest apologies.”

The agent, who by the apology had just had her last nerve restored, wiped the corners of her eyes to keep from crying. “Certainly, sir. Again, we’re awfully sorry for your inconvenience.”

Darcy turned to the woman in the corner who smiled broadly at him as she asked, “There. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Darcy shook his head no and was about to apologize to her as well when a porter for the agency came in with to address her, “I’ve got your keys right here ma’am. You’re all set now…sorry that took so long but it took some time to get the Cheerios out of the back seat.”

Darcy was not pleased that she bestowed a bright smile on the porter as well. “Thank you. I’m sure the car is spotless now! You have a great holiday and don’t work too hard, okay?”

The porter had been affected by the woman as much as Darcy was. He stammered, “Why, why, thank you ma’am…you have a great holiday as well!”

“I’m sure I will.” She smiled and as she took the keys from the porter, she touched his arm in appreciation and Darcy actually felt a pang of envy. How he wished she would touch him!

She nodded good-bye as she took her leave of the little rental office.

 

*Chapter Two*

Will Darcy’s eyes followed the woman as she walked outside and as a streak of yellow passed by, he recalled that he was in need of a cab. He also left the building and stood by the cab stand but to no avail. While waiting and hoping for a cab, he watched as the lovely woman struggled to get her heavy luggage into the back of the vehicle. On her third attempt to get the larger piece into the trunk, Darcy could take it no more and decided to offer his assistance to her.

He approached and rather shyly said, “Hello there…I can see you’re having a spot of trouble and would like to offer some help. I’d like to offer an apology as well. I was a bit of an arse in there….” she smiled when he said arse and wanting to see if he could make her laugh he said, “I hate to nit-pick, but my parents were married, so I am not a bastard. Arse, yes. Bastard, no.”

The woman’s eyes lit up with laughter and though Darcy realized that before when he thought she wasn’t beautiful he’s been very mistaken. She was absolutely magnificent and her genuine laughter was like a balm to his soul.

“While it’s nice to know that your parents believed in the institution of marriage, and, by definition, you are not a bastard, I think you, sir, will need to watch those bastard tendencies in attitude.”

He grinned at her audacity. No one ever spoke to him in this matter. Everyone always deferred to his whims and preferences. His friends always sought his advice, his sister revered him as a father-figure, the rest of the family used him for his business acumen and everyone else just seemed to have their hand out. This was refreshing. Maybe Bingley was right. Maybe he did need someone who would hold him accountable for his treatment of others. Too bad he was due to spend his four-day weekend with the spinster-in-law.

Darcy smiled and said with a bit of cheek, “You could help me keep the attitude in check by allowing me to assist you with these bags.”

The woman took a moment to regard the man standing before her. He stood quite tall, at least 6’4”, he was broad-shouldered and appeared to be athletically built. He was hazel-eyed, had ruddy-brown curly hair that was carefully unkempt and he had an unquestionably handsome face. These things had all been obvious when she had first noticed him causing havoc in the office. What was new was how absolutely devastating he became when he smiled and his dimples, which she was positive were rarely seen, appeared to make him knee-weakening, swoon-worthy, handsome.

Though she must have been an entire foot shorter than him, she seemed to somehow tower him when she arched her brow and answered, “I suppose it’s my Christian duty to help you reform your wicked ways by letting you perform an act of kindness.”

Darcy, because of his position in life and the ambitions he had, lived a circumspect life which was unusual for someone of his set. Many of his acquaintance made semi-regular appearances in the rag-mags which would tell of their latest follies and exploits. Darcy, in part because of his teenage sister, had sought to be above all that and the result was a near monk-like existence. However, the very thought of this woman reforming his wicked ways had put ideas into his head that he’d not thought of in years.

Stupid Bingley and his spinster-in-law! Would that I could follow this woman wherever she was going instead! I’d devise some ‘wicked ways’ she could reform…. Darcy broke from his reverie and realized he needed to reply, “They do say practice makes perfect, so I’d best begin now.”

She smiled again and put her hand on his upper arm and said, “Thank you for your help. I’m running late heading out to my sister’s place in Madison. I can offer you a ride to your hotel or something so you’re not stuck here. There seems to be a shortage of taxis today.”

 Darcy could not believe his excellent fortune! “Oh, I’m not staying in Chicago. I’m actually heading to Madison too. I’m heading to my friend’s house for what he assured me would be a ‘genuine American Thanksgiving.’”

Darcy set the last of the bags in the trunk and as he was about to shut it, she stayed his hand. “It seems a bit absurd that you would pay a taxi to take you to the same place I’m already going…”

Not wanting to seem over-anxious, Darcy said, “I don’t mind…” Liar! “I wouldn’t wish to be any trouble or intrude.”

“Not wishing to be any trouble now? Well, I see we’ve made a good start on your wicked ways after all. I shudder to think how much head way we can make with several hours ahead of us on the road!”

Darcy had no verbal response because his mind was working overtime creating all sorts of scenarios that he could not give voice to.

She laughed and pushed his shoulder gently to get his attention. “I know you’re probably jet-lagged, but don’t just stand there…go get your bags!”

Darcy did as he was bid and set his garment bag and small duffel in the trunk. Before shutting the trunk, he looked to her for approval which she gave with a smile and a nod. “See, you’ve already learned so much!”

Darcy chuckled. In the fifteen minutes or so since he’d first laid eyes on this woman, she’d somehow managed to upend his priorities and he did not even know her name.

“I’m sorry, but before we go, I must apologize once again. I’ve been rude and haven’t introduced myself.” He then said with a small bow and a flourish, “Will Darcy at your service.”

The woman gave a small courtesy and bobbed her head, “Well then, Mr. Darcy, I’m Liz Gardiner and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.” She giggled at their silliness and opened the driver’s door and got in.

She leaned over to Darcy who was fidgeting with the seatbelt buckle and said, “I’d consider letting you drive but I’d wager you’re more tired than you’re willing to admit and besides…we drive on the right side of the road here!” When he looked up to protest that he wasn’t tired at all, he noticed the mischievous glint had returned and then she winked at him.

He could not help but smile. “You may drive on the right side of the road here…but we drive on the correct one.”

Liz suppressed a giggle as she started the car. Luckily, they’d flown into O’Hare and had already cut at least an hour off the trip by not having to wend their way through the city. While waiting at a light, she regarded the man sitting beside her. Mom would kill me if she knew I was driving around with a stranger…she’s always worried about the next Ted Bundy! Though I suppose since he’s British that’d make him Jack the Ripper to her! Thinking about her mother’s over-protectiveness caused a small laugh that could not be held in which caught Darcy’s attention. He realized she’d been looking at him when she laughed and he was trying to puzzle out what was humorous about his person.

“May I ask what is so funny?” he tentatively inquired.

Liz answered, “My mother would have a heart-attack if she knew I’d given a ride anywhere to a stranger. I’m twenty-seven years old and she still lectures me on stranger-danger.”

While Darcy appreciated that she’d offered him the ride, as his little sister’s guardian, he completely understood her mother’s point. Georgie could be sixty instead of sixteen and he would still worry over her safety.

“I’m sure she worries about you only because she loves and cares about you very much.” Information…you need information man! “I’m sure your boyfriend or husband worries incessantly about you too.”

She shook her head and grinned. “Nicely done there Mr. Darcy! I’ll bite…no, there is no boyfriend, no there is no husband. As a matter of fact, my family has made it their ‘holiday project’, if you will, to see me well-matched and I must admit I’m a little pissed off about it.”

All he could think to say was, “Why?”

“Why? I’m working on my doctorate, I’m working full-time while doing my research and my brain may actually explode, which- if it did- would probably actually help my research, and my sister wants me to give up my career- which I haven’t even really started yet- to get married and settle down like she did.”

He could not help but ask, “Your doctorate- it’s not in English, is it?”

She furrowed her brow and asked, “No, why?”

“Because that was one of the longest run-on sentences I’ve ever heard.”

After they shared a good laugh, she explained, “Really, my background is quantum mechanics and my Ph.D. from M.I.T. will be in physics if I can be left alone long enough to finish my Oral Defense.”

Darcy was duly impressed. Beauty and brains. “So, rocket science?”

“In a manner of speaking. I answered your question, now you can answer mine: what do you do to occupy your time?”

This was a nice change of pace for Darcy. In the U.K. and many parts of Europe he was known by sight alone. He was unused to any sort of anonymity and decided he liked it. He hated disguise of every sort but a bit of evasion wasn’t really the same thing, was it?

“Me? I work for a family-owned multi-national based in London. Mostly paper-shuffling and phone calls, nothing exciting like rocket science.”

“Oh, you poor man! A cubicle rat. Please tell me you at least have a window?” Liz asked with concern.

Thinking about his One Canada Tower suite which boasted the entire west side of the building for a window view, he felt a little guilty letting her believe he was a- what had she said?- cubicle rat. His westward view over the river and spectacular views from the tallest building in the U.K. were why he had chosen to house Pemberley in Canary Wharf rather than in the Square Mile.

“I must own that, yes, I see plenty of daylight in my workspace.” He knew he was treading dangerously close to out and out deception.

Though Liz was glad to hear it, she wasn’t satisfied and the thought of another big company shoving around their workers made her highly agitated. “I just wish those CEO-types gave more consideration to their employees. I’m sure the head of your company has a whole floor to himself and comes and goes as he pleases while giving little thought to how hard his people work for him. They make more money than God and yet are so stingy when it comes to paying some sort of wage someone could actually raise a family on! It’s so ridiculous!”

This was troublesome for Darcy. Was she some sort of socialist? Americans in particular were supposed to be all about capitalism. Needing to defend himself without giving himself away he offered, “Working at Pemberley isn’t so bad. True, the CEO does have a huge suite but he works longer hours than most of the people in his employ do. I know we have better benefits than a lot of comparable companies and though we do have cubicles, it is a bright and airy place to work. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

Liz was a bit relieved to hear that. “I’m sorry. I’m sure you’ve heard about the issues with our economy right now. It seems that it’s okay for these modern-day robber-barons to come in and ‘fix’ a company until it’s deemed irreparable and then bail, taking a golden parachute and leaving everyone in the lurch. Wait- did you say Pemberley?”

This isn’t good… “I did. Why?”

“There’s a nice guy that works in the pub down the street from my building in Boston that claims he was railroaded out of there. Says the CEO was a real, well, you can imagine…”

No! No! No! It can’t be! He asked in as calm a voice as he could muster, “People come and go pretty often. Maybe I knew him…what’s his name?”

“His name’s George. Wickham, I think, is his last name. He says your CEO was a jealous loser who was mad because he was engaged to his sister. George makes a perfect bartender as he’s got a million stories. He is a bit of an obnoxious flirt though. I think he uses his Scottish accent to hit on women.”

“Jealous loser? Huh. That’s an odd claim as it’s a pretty well known fact that the CEO’s sister is barely sixteen. The man sounds a bit pervy. Do women really fall for his accent?” More importantly, did you fall for his accent?

“Eww. Really? She’s only sixteen? You’re right, that would be- what word did you use?- pervy. Here we’d call that child molestation and call the cops…but hey, that’s us. As for his accent, now that I think about it, I’ve only seen it really work on really drunk women close to last call. What a creep! Personally, I always thought he worked too hard at being charming.”

With immense relief, Darcy further explained, “I think old George had things a bit mixed up and he was the jealous one. I do know who he is and can say that your depiction of his as a storyteller is only somewhat accurate. What the man actually does is spin lies and tall tales. He was caught defrauding the company and lost his broker’s license. I wonder how he ended up in the States.”

Liz replied disgustedly, “I don’t really care! Hey, do they have such a thing as sex offender lists in England? I’m sure if he’s on a list or something there, he could be watched closely or maybe even deported. People should be aware of exactly what kind of creep is in the neighborhood.”

Darcy felt like a heel. In order to protect his sister from the media he’d paid Wickham off and cared not where he went. Never for one moment did it occur to him how wrong it was to loose such a predator back into the wild. He had always assumed was the reason Wickham had chosen Georgiana was precisely because she was his sister. Without anyone to restrain or check him and with the amount of cash Darcy had laid out, there were no limits at all to whatever George wanted to get into. This was bad.

“I believe in this case the head guy wanted to protect his sister from any untoward attention from the press. I’m pretty sure charges were never brought against him.”

Liz pondered just how savage the media can be for a moment. “I can see why he’d choose not to. I don’t know if that would have been the right thing to do, but I think I can understand why.”

They had driven for about forty-five minutes and the conversation never lagged. After the awkward moments where Darcy feared detection, the topic changed. They discussed politics, economics, the global village and how they each loved to travel. This was all new territory for Will Darcy. For any woman, especially an eligible woman, to express a differing opinion to him was completely refreshing.

Liz Gardiner was having a similar revelation. Holding advanced degrees in quantum mechanics and physics was bad enough, but the death knell usually came whenever a man learned she was also pursuing her Ph.D. That this handsome, intelligent man, who, in addition to a killer smile, also had a spine-tingling accented voice, was not off-put by Liz simply being herself was something that she had a hard time quantifying. All her research on the matter proved that this situation was an anomaly.

They drove for a few miles in companionable silence until Darcy’s head bobbed and she realized he was dozing off. As long a day as she’d had traveling, she knew his had been even longer. If they were going to make it anywhere near Madison before six-o’clock, she was going to need a serious infusion of caffeine.

“Will?”

He snapped to and had momentarily forgotten where he was. When he remembered, he frowned. Damn Bingley and his spinster-in-law! Maybe Liz will take pity on me and let me go to her sister’s with her. I’m sure I’ll have no interest in this Beth-person anyways. Oh well, you’re a smart man and you’ll think of something. He was determined to make the most out of the hour or two he had left in Liz’s company and, warming to that thought, he put a dimpled smile back on his face.

“Yes, Liz?”

She wondered what was going on that such contrary emotions seemed to be playing on his face. One minute he seemed miles away and much like the grumpy man in the rental office; but then the next he was the almost cheerful, warm, funny man who was sharing a ride with her. She was curious which one was the real Will Darcy.

“I’m going to make a pit stop here soon to stretch my legs, call my sister and grab something highly caffeinated and was wondering if you have any preferences?”

“That’s extremely thoughtful of you, but wherever you wish to stop I’m sure will suffice.”

Liz was enjoying this ride and knew she’d be sad when the time came to drop Will of at his friend’s home. Why on earth did Jane choose this Thanksgiving to play match-maker? And with a guy named Fitz? What kind of name was Fitz anyways? Even the Germans in her lab had made fun of the name. So some buddy of Charlie’s from university was lonely, so what? The man had gone to Cambridge along with Charlie and, while Cambridge wasn’t M.I.T., she was certain he was smart enough to find a wife on his own! If poor, clueless Charlie could do it, anyone could. Unless of course being named Fitz was some sort of insurmountable handicap, which the more Liz thought about it, the likelier that seemed to be. The more she spoke with Will, the more she was beginning to regret her commitment to Jane.

“If I remember correctly, the next exit should have plenty of gas station food shops to choose from. More places are starting to stay open on Thanksgiving, but they didn’t yet get that memo here in the Midwest.”

Darcy laughed aloud. “Should I ever visit Chip on this holiday again, I’ll try to remember that.”

Liz pulled off the highway and cruised into a BP station. They both got out and stretched before going into the store.

Darcy was wandering around the shop and said to Liz in amazement, “Good God! This is a huge petrol station. Are all stations like this?”

“Oh no, this is a toll road oasis and truck stop.” She pointed to the pumps off to the side with their high shelters which could accommodate the big rigs. “Those over are the diesel pumps. If you really want to be amazed I can show you the showers, the lounge and the arcade.”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary. I’ve just never seen anything quite like this.”

Liz waved her hand, “All the comforts of home, available 24/7 on the road. That is truly American ingenuity at it’s best!”

The smile Darcy gave her in return made her stomach flutter. “And isn’t that what your Thanksgiving is all about? How clever you were for colonizing and all that?”

Liz laughed, “Something to that effect. It was a bit more complex than that…”

With just a faint hint of sarcasm, Darcy replied, “I’ll take your word for it.”

A teasingly indignant Liz responded, “Please do!”

Their cheerful banter had steadily grown louder. They were struck dumb when a small girl who could not have been more than six years old very politely asked them to mind their manners and use an ‘indoor’ voice. Once the little girl was out of the shop, they could hold it in no longer and each had a proper, tear-streaked, laughing fit.

*Chapter Three*

William Darcy could not recall the last time he’d felt so good. Laughing and carrying on with Liz made him feel like a care-free teenager again. He was enjoying this short respite from his responsibilities. If only the weekend ahead held as much promise as this car-ride with a virtual stranger!

He had just selected a Coke from the cooler. While normally he’d much rather forego the caffeine in favor of sleeping off some of his jet-lag, today he’d do his best to stay awake and converse with Liz for as long as he could. He found Liz over by the coffee machines concocting some sort of coffee/espresso hybrid. As he approached Liz, he could hear her conversing on her mobile with someone whom he surmised to be her sister.

“Yeah, well, I had to wait over an hour for a car to be made ready.” Liz stirred the cream into her drink. “Uh-huh. Well there was this man who was really pissed they were out of cars and I felt guilty at having been given the last one.” She secured the lid on the cup. “It was just a matter of luck that I was there ahead of him- it could have easily been me that was left without one.” Liz put a sleeve on the cup. “We talked for a few minutes and when I realized he was heading in your direction, I offered him a ride. And if you tell Mom….” She grabbed some napkins and begun to giggle at whatever her sister had said. “Exactly! I think you’re absolutely right!” Liz began to pour another cup from a different machine. “Uh-huh. Well, I don’t know if the situations had been reversed if he’d have offered me a ride…probably not- now that I think about it. But- that doesn’t even matter because I offered him one and that’s that. I consider it my above-and-beyond good Samaritan deed for the season!” She finished pouring the second drink and grabbed for another lid. “Yeah- you can say that but, oh my, if you’d have seen him, you’d have offered him a ride too!” She topped the second cup. “Are you sure your Mr. Fancy-Pants even wants to meet me? Okay- if you’re sure. It’s just….” She sighed as she put the sleeve on the second cup. “It’s just that…well, I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’m pretty sure it’s not whatever it is that you think you’re doing setting me up with Mr. Fancy-Pants.”

Darcy felt somewhat guilty about having eavesdropped, yet he could not help also feeling pleased that she didn’t want to get to her set-up any faster than he wanted to get to his. He pondered for a moment on her comment about whether, if the circumstances had been reversed, he would have given her a ride. Darcy was positive he would have but grew ashamed when he realized it would have been only because she was beautiful and not because it would have been the right thing to do. This was indeed a grave flaw in his character. Darcy had always taken care of those he was responsible for, had been generous with his money and given freely where it was needed. Liz’s remark to her sister had hit him with a nearly-physical impact. Having been so used to being catered to and waited upon, it was difficult for him to see how he, and not his money, might actually be of use to others for a change. It was quite the revelation. Perhaps in the future he’d get more personally involved with his philanthropy than simply signing his name on a cheque.

He cleared his throat with a small cough to alert Liz to his presence so she wouldn’t be startled and spill her hot drinks or think he’d been listening in on her private conversation. She smiled and gave the signal that she’d be another moment or two.

“Uh-huh. Yeah, we’re in Lake Forest just south of Gurnee.” She rolled her eyes at Will in response to her sister. “We’ll be careful in the snow. I do live in Boston and we get some snow too you know…I am familiar with how it works.” She made a face and turned away from Will to whisper. “We, as in: there’s more than one of us in the car. He’s not a stray dog or a serial killer. Okay? See you in a few hours! Save me a drumstick! Love you! Bye!”

Darcy smiled as she hung up her mobile. “I take it that was your sister?” Liz nodded. “She’s not too worried, is she?”

“No. Just disappointed that I won’t make it in time for dinner.”

Darcy looked at his watch, which he’d adjusted when the Captain had announced what the local time was as they were preparing to land in the Central time zone. “We have about two more hours or so to Madison, if the weather holds, and that should get us in the area by about 5:30-6:00pm or so. That should be plenty of time, shouldn’t it?”

“Most Americans traditionally eat a little sooner than that so we can fall into our tryptophan comas and watch the Cowboys play football. Then there’re both the Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life marathons. It’s pretty amazing how silly it all is. Plus, you need time to strategically plan your Black Friday shopping! It’s alright though; my sister is saving me my drumstick and all the fixings, so it’s fine.”

Darcy could not help himself and had to ask. “What about your set-up? Is your mystery man suffering your absence?”

Liz made a face. “I wouldn’t care if he was…but she said he’s not even been heard from yet! I guess they’re getting worried because he was flying in today too.”

Darcy scowled. “How rude! That’s so inconsiderate of him…how hard could it be to pick up a mobile and give them a ring?” Then he remembered he’d not yet called Bingley either and felt a bit sheepish.

Liz nodded her agreement. “I know, right? I wasn’t really giving him any consideration, but now? I don’t think so! To be invited to someone’s home for a family holiday and then not even call…but I’m tired of talking about Mr. Fancy-Pants. I got you a hot chocolate…I figured it’d help sooth you after the long day you’ve had.”

He was touched by this more than he could say. This woman, whom he’d only known about an hour-and-a half, truly seemed to care about his welfare. Liz wanted him to feel better because of who she was, not what he could do for her. This was turning into quite the day of lessons and for that, Darcy was glad. Before, he’d never have even thought to call Bingley, but now he knew he should and so he would.

“Thanks very much for the cocoa! That’s so thoughtful of you. Please let me pay for the drinks…it’s the least I can do since you’ve been so kind in letting me tag along with you today.” She nodded and together they carried them to the counter. The warm, sweet smell of cinnamon-sugar caught Liz’s attention. She promised Will she’d be right back and she dashed off across the commons area of the plaza.

Darcy made his purchase and with his left hand grasping the drink carrier, he dialed Bingley on his mobile with the right. “Hello Bingley. Sorry to call so late after the plane got in but there was a mix up at the rental agency and long story short, I’ve hitched a ride.” Darcy sat down on a bench as he listened to his friend. “Yeah. I’m sure The Mirror would have loved that! You can laugh because it didn’t happen to you. So…is the spinster-in-law there yet?”

Liz had procured two of the most delectable treats in the world. She’d bought a few pretzels from Auntie Anne’s and was certain her new friend should try one. To Liz, if a cinnamon-sugar pretzel couldn’t make you feel better, then she was sure you had one foot in the grave. Besides, they were running late and she was positive her brother-in-law would finish off the pumpkin pie if she wasn’t there to claim it right away. She was feeling pretty happy because of the company Will provided. It sure beat making the drive up all alone. Liz was coming up behind him when she heard his last remark.

“No, no. I’m sure she’s lovely and all but really… I don’t want a fix-up with your wife’s un-marry-able, spinster sister. I’m sure it was difficult for her to get a sitter to watch her many cats and all, but I’ve got to be honest here…I’m not now, nor ever going to be, interested in her. Nothing you’ve mentioned about her seems very promising.”

She just stood there dumbfounded. It seems he had been destined for a date with disaster too. Liz felt an odd pang of something that could only be classed as jealousy. It was absurd to feel so, but there it was nonetheless. At first she thought the remarks he’d made about his potential date sounded cold but then she remembered all the harsh things she’d said to Jane and knew she was just as bad. Why can’t people just leave well-enough alone? The world is a big place and she was sure that someday she’d meet someone and just know. Jane needed to get it through her thick head that she was never going to be like her. Liz would never be content to stay home and keep house. Especially if all went well with her examinations and she secured that job with EOARD.

“Anyways, the most amazing woman has taken pity on yours truly and offered me a ride as she was headed towards Madison as well.” He laughed and it was a sound that Liz guessed he didn’t make nearly enough in his life. “I know…I think even you and that wifey of yours would like her except that she wants to pawn spinster-in-law off on me.” He chuckled at the remark his friend made. “True enough! But just to give you an update, according to the ‘you are here’ map we’re in Lake Forest and headed north on I-94, putting us about two hours out if the weather doesn’t get any worse. Incidentally, this is the craziest petrol station I’ve ever seen!”

Liz suppressed her laughter and wondered how different this really was from England. If things went according to plan, she’d get the chance to know soon enough. She came closer to Will and nudged his shoulder to offer him a pretzel.

Darcy took the warm treat and grinned. Winking at Liz he said his goodbye to Bingley, “Hey, well, I’m going to let you go now… my ride’s here!” Liz teasingly elbowed him as she sat down next to him on the bench. “Ow! She hit me! If I don’t survive the ride out there, tell my sister I always loved her! See you in a few hours and apologize to your wife please…I’m sorry I missed the dinner. Maybe we can still catch the end of the…” he looked to Liz for confirmation, “Cowboys game or watch a Christmas Story.” He was pleased by the reaction he received on the other end of the line. “Yeah, well, I was an arse when we met and she’s gladly pointed out some of my faults.” Darcy shook his head in response to his friend and motioned that he was crazy. “Well, if your spinster-in-law was half so wonderful as my new friend here, I’m sure she wouldn’t still be available! So, you must see there’s a flaw in your logic. I’ll call you when we get closer. Uh-huh, see you soon old man!”

Liz just beamed. How could she not when he’d just paid her such beautiful compliments? “Alright Mr. Darcy, are you ready to hit the road again?”

Will took a sip of his mint-flavored, designer cocoa and motioned for her to step ahead of him. He said with a slight bow, “Ladies first.”

Liz blushed a bit and acknowledged his politeness with a slight curtsy. This was really fun! Sharing this time with this man was something Liz was sure she’d never forget for the whole rest of her life. He offered her his arm and she took it. Together they trod through the newly fallen snow to the rental car not caring that several inches had fallen during their short break.

 

*Chapter Four*

Darcy had taken the brush from the backseat and made short work of clearing the vehicle of snow and ice. He tossed the brush into the backseat and after he buckled in, he wrapped his hands around his cocoa in an attempt to warm up his fingers.

As Liz pulled out of the station and they made their way back onto I-94 Will inquired, “May I ask a question?”

“Sure.”

“Does it always snow this much on Thanksgiving?”

She grinned, “No, not usually! I think this is a special treat just for you!”

Darcy took care not to choke on the sip of cocoa he was enjoying and managed instead a dignified chuckle. “I’m sure I’m flattered.”

“As you should be! The Midwest is known for rather unpredictable weather. Last week it nearly hit seventy degrees from what my sister tells me.”

“Isn’t that a bit extreme?”

“It might be, but some things just can’t be helped. And please- no talk about climate change!” Liz pleaded.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Darcy knew this was an especially heated topic in the scientific community. As much as he would have loved to hear her insights about it, he’d rather get to know her better in the short time remaining. “So, if you’ll be so kind as to indulge my curiosity, may I ask where you’re from? I know you said you live in Boston, but I suspect that’s not where you grew up.”

Liz giggled and began speaking in her most exaggerated Boston accent, “I’m so wicked awesome onna- conna bein’ a Southie. Jus’ be careful afta dahk or ya might be skeeved out.” She barely got the last out before she had cracked herself up and Darcy’s teasing applause only made her laugh harder. “No Will, I’m originally from Chicago. I suppose Boston-ese is the equivalent of a Cockney accent.”

“I’ve never been to Boston, so I’ll have to take your word on that.”

She held up her forefinger to her thumb and shrugged. “Well, to be honest, I may have overdone it just a little.”

That made the laughter resume in full force. Liz had never been so comfortable with a man not in a lab coat and Darcy had never been able to just be himself before. Darcy thought it tragic that he couldn’t have met her under other circumstances and Liz knew she’d now set the bar too high for any normal man to reach. While the merriment subsided, each was given over to pondering what they really expected in the future.

They fell once again into a companionable silence. The snowfall began to change from light, fluffy flakes into a heavy, dense squall. Liz turned the wipers onto high and hit the rear defrost again to clear the windows. Visibility was decreasing and they slowed down accordingly. Liz was white-knuckling the steering wheel and she was shifting nervously in her seat.

Liz slowed onto the shoulder and stopped. When she turned the key in the ignition to off, she apologized, “I’m sorry Will, but you may want to call your friend and explain that we’ll be even a little later than I thought. I need to pull over and wait a bit…I can’t see anything and I really don’t want to hit a patch of black ice and hit someone or skid off the road. It seems you’re stuck with me a little longer.”

“Oh Liz, there’s nothing to be sorry for. This is your holiday and I feel bad that you didn’t make it to your family yet. To me, well, this is really just another Thursday.”

She nodded. “At least we’re near the border, that is, if we didn’t already cross it. So, on behalf of the American people, I’d like you welcome you to the great state of Wisconsin.”

Darcy smiled. “Why thank you, on behalf of Her Majesty, I accept your gracious hospitality.”

Liz leaned forward in her seat to peer up through the slant of the windshield. “I don’t imagine we’ll have to stay here very long. It should clear up enough to continue soon.”

“What shall we do to pass the time? It’s too dark to play I Spy, I think.”

Liz agreed. “True. Well, I think turnabout is fair play and you’ve interrogated me and now it’s my turn.”

“First, let me call my friend. I wouldn’t wish to be in the same class as your Mr. Fancy-Pants.” Darcy teased.

“Excellent idea! I’ll check in with my sister and explain our delay.”

Darcy spoke with Bingley, “Yes Old Man, I think we’ll make it in all right. I’ll make sure to ring when we get closer to Madison. She said we should be near the border. Right. Yes. Alright then, see you soon.”

At the same moment, Liz was speaking with Jane, “Yes sister dear, perfect gentleman. Yeah. We passed 173 already but with the white-out I can’t tell exactly where we are. Uh-huh. Love you! I’ll call when we skate Milwaukee. Bye.”

Once the cell phones were put away, Liz began her inquisition. “So, Mister Will Darcy, where are you from, how old are you and how did you get coerced into spending a holiday you don’t celebrate in Wisconsin?”

Darcy grinned at her boldness. “Well, Miss Liz Gardiner, I am from northern England, Derbyshire to be specific, I’m thirty-one but have a birthday forthcoming in January and my best friend from Uni has been begging me to come visit him ever since he moved here. I owe him because I was unable to make his wedding this past spring. His wife is very nice and all, perfect for my friend….”

Liz finished for him, “…but not necessarily the same sort of woman you’d choose for yourself?”

Relief in not being misunderstood was clearly evident on his face. “Exactly. Chip and I were always close but we’re so different. If the sister is anything like his wife, I’d go mad. I’m sorry, that sounds terrible…I really do like her and all but I don’t want a copy of myself. Does that make any sort of sense?”

“I think it’s perfectly clear! My sister’s husband is so very good. That’s not a bad thing… and I don’t mean to sound like I want chaos or drama but he is so like my sister it can be quite nauseating at times! I just want a little more… and this is where my argument falls apart because I have no idea what it is, but I’m certain I’ll know it when I see it.”

That earned a low chuckle from Darcy. “Very eloquent Liz. Any more questions? Or is the Spanish Inquisition over?”

Liz’s eyes flashed with mirth at the look of surprise on his face when she said, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

Darcy could not believe his luck. Not only was this woman beautiful and intelligent, she also got Monty Python jokes? This really was too good to be true.  “I know it’s your turn and all, but I have to ask, who’s your favorite?”

Liz actually gushed, “Python? Oh, that’s easy for me. I know everyone always says either Cleese or Idle but I’m a huge Michael Palin fan.”

Darcy’s inner fan-boy came out. “Me too! That’s so incredibly strange! I’ve never, ever heard anyone else admit he’s their favorite. Have you ever had a chance to see any of his other sketch work?”

“What? Like Ripping Yarns? Oh, absolutely! This is very odd. I must commend you on your excellent taste in comedy.” She smiled.

He nodded at her compliment and added his own. “And I must also commend yours. It’s unusual to find a girl who ‘gets’ Python.”

She acknowledged the truth of it. “Oh, believe me, I know. I also like the Kids in the Hall, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello and, this is usually the lady-like deal-breaker, the Three Stooges. It seems that to be a polished and refined woman means that you must have your funny bone removed. I suppose that’s why I’m a lab-rat. Science makes sense where people usually don’t.”

Darcy understood. “People say they really want one thing because that’s what’s expected of them but in their hearts they really desire something else altogether. Perception carries altogether too much weight I think.”

Liz knew she was in a dangerous position. Despite his grumpy behavior earlier, she suspected this was more the real man and this real man was someone who she could easily fall for. It would never do. No man ever saw anything more but her genius and even then she was treated as an oddity. No, it was not even a remote possibility that a man like this could ever be interested in a misfit like her.

Darcy also felt the danger. He had never been so at ease with a woman and he felt certain she was experiencing the same thing too. Will didn’t want to raise her expectations because as nice as this was, the reality was that in three and a half days he’d be flying home to London and she’d be for Boston. It was hopeless enough without the addition of meddling friends and relatives trying to pair them off. If only circumstances were different.

In an attempt to lighten the serious mood in the car, she began her questions again, “So, what does Will Darcy do for fun on a Sunday afternoon?”

A long dialogue began between the two and they discovered they shared similar tastes in music and literature but not at all where movies or theatre were concerned. They were so deep in intimate conversation that neither had noticed that it had stopped snowing so heavily. An alarm sounded on Liz’s phone which drew their attentions at last away from one another.

Liz said under her breath, “Crud-monkey.”

Darcy thought he heard her but wasn’t entirely sure he heard her correctly. “Pardon?”

Embarrassed by being heard, she stammered, “I’ve got to get out my meter. I’d expected to be there by now and my kit is packed away in my luggage. The TSA isn’t too friendly about letting people carry needles on planes these days, no matter what your reason.”

His mind was trying to work out what this meant and when he thought he knew, he asked, “Diabetes?”

Liz nodded, “Yep. Type I since I was three. Loads of fun. It’s really under pretty tight control, but today’s been a bit unusual and I need to check it, so I need to brave the snow and get into the trunk.”

Sitting on the shoulder of the highway in the dark and snow was one thing, but getting out and walking around the car when the visibility was low was another thing altogether. Darcy knew he’d never be able to live with himself if anything should happen to Liz. “If your kit needs to be retrieved, may I do it for you? I’d much rather you stay in the safety of the car.”

Liz had listened to people speak about chivalry for years but had never witnessed an example of it until just now. Having made her way through life so far by being independent, she’d never truly considered what the day-to-day benefits of having a man around who cared for you might be. Liz had long ago tuned out her step-mother’s advice on men and though she loved Jane as if she were her real sister, whenever Jane began to talk about how wonderful it was being married, she just assumed it was a case of like-mother, like-daughter.

“Thanks for the offer Will! How about if we both go? My insulin is in my carry-on but my kit is in the larger bag.”

Will motioned for her to stay put. “Alright. You just wait there a moment.” He hopped out and moved to the driver’s side door, opened it with a flourish and said, “After you, Miss Gardiner.”

Liz smiled again at the gallant gesture. She truly liked this man, even knowing he could be grouchy and arrogant, and she enjoyed this playfulness in conversation they shared. “Why, thank you, Mr. Darcy!”He offered her his arm and she gladly took it.

They opened the trunk as Will moved his bags aside to get to hers; she procured the insulin from her carry-on tote. When he finally wrested the large suitcase out from under the others, Liz opened the bag and Will finally understood why her bag had been so heavy and difficult earlier. Liz began to hand Will several wrapped presents and asked if he could make sure they didn’t get wet.

The first package seemed to be a weighty, hardcover book with a tag that was addressed to D.B.I.L. from D.S.I.L. The next box was larger and even heavier and it’s tag was made out to D.S. from D.S. The third present felt like another book and was again made out to D.B.I.L. from D.S.I.L. Will was about to ask after the initials but Liz handed him still another box. This one was also for D.S. from the same. Liz hastily re-arranged the remaining items in her suitcase and finally uncovered the small, black bag that held her meter and other supplies.

“A ha! There you are!” she laughed as she spoke to the case. “Will? Would you be so kind as to put the presents back in the suitcase?” He nodded. “Thank you for being so helpful!” She turned to head back to the car, but then had a humorous thought. “Okay. Will Darcy, I hereby declare you cured of all your bastard tendencies. From this Thanksgiving day forward, you shall be known throughout the land as a true gentleman.”

He exclaimed, “I’m cured? It’s a holiday miracle!” He began the arduous task of attempting to repack Liz’s suitcase so the zipper would close once more. As he was refolding a sweater, trying to not think about the lacy under-things that were now plainly visible, one last wrapped present caught his eye. Picking up the small, brightly-colored, box shaped gift, he frowned when he saw it was addressed to F. from L. Darcy made a mental checklist of names that could possibly begin with F. Frank, Fred, Felix, Ford, Fergus, Franz, Fonzie, Fitzwilliam? No, there’s never another Fitzwilliam and no one who is saddled with that name ever goes by it. Maybe it’s for a girl friend? Felicia, Francis…this is ridiculous! You are being such an idiot! You surely cannot be jealous, can you? He finished settling Liz’s belongings back in some semblance of order and only had to squash the bag a tiny bit in order to get it to zip shut.

Just as he settled himself back in the passenger’s seat, she was reading the results of her test. Not happy with what she saw, she stated once again her rather unusual phrase. “Crud monkey.”

Not being familiar with the ins and outs of life with diabetes, Will asked, “Is it really bad?”

“Not terrible, but not good either. I should have planned better, I knew to plan better…but I did so hope to be there by now. I know that pretzel probably wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, but it sure was very tasty!” She looked over to Will and asked, “I hope you’re not too terribly squeamish Mr. Darcy?” Will shook his head. “Good. It’s rather cold out and I need to give myself a shot.”       

 

*Chapter Five*

Will knew he’d fibbed. He wasn’t terribly squeamish, he was unbelievably squeamish and the thought of anyone having to actually inject themselves was enough to make him go pale. “How can I help Liz?” he managed to ask.

“Well, I just need you to hold these while I get the site ready.” She handed him the kit and the insulin bottle.

She dabbed a cotton ball with alcohol and shivered as she pulled her shirt up a little bit. She looked at Will for a moment and said, “I have to undo this just a little. If I could do this elsewhere, I would.”

He blushed as he realized she was undoing the button and zipper on her trousers. She pulled the top down just a bit so she could access the fleshier part of her abdomen. Will wanted to look away, but he was mesmerized by watching her swab her skin which became goose-pimpled when the chilled alcohol touched it. She put the used cotton ball in a Ziploc bag and then reached in the kit to get a new syringe. Taking the bottle from Will’s hand, she drew two units of insulin and took a deep breath before plunging it into her belly. Liz put the used syringe into a hard case and then placed a band-aid over the injection site. Sticking the wrapper in her pocket, she quickly did her pants back up and pulled her blouse back down. Setting the case back within the kit, she took the insulin back from Will and put it back in it’s cooler bag.

Will was still staring and he felt very awkward. His curiosity was great and he asked, “I’m sorry if this is an inappropriate question, or if you don’t want to talk about it, but does that happen often?”

“Oh, I don’t mind. My diabetes is under what they call “tight control”. I check it often and make the adjustments with insulin as needed so that I prevent my body from going too high or too low. It’s the highs and lows that cause the most damage. By keeping my body as level as possible, I will, hopefully, minimize the long-term damage to my kidneys and my eyes. I generally eat well, and exercise often so that helps my body too.”

Darcy had the impression that was a fairly well-rehearsed speech. She didn’t look like other diabetics that he knew of. “I was under the impression that, well, you don’t look… what I mean to say is that you’re so thin, and… well, I thought…”

As someone who had dealt with this all her life, she was aware of what he was trying, ineptly, to say. “That all diabetics were overweight?” He turned bright red with embarrassment and she put her hand on his shoulder to reassure him she wasn’t insulted or angry. “While it is true that being overweight can lead to Type II diabetes, diabetes does not cause people to be overweight. And I have Type I, better known as juvenile, diabetes and have needed to rely on insulin since I was three.”

Will was thinking about the thousands of shots and doctors appointments that she must have had to endure through the years. “Isn’t there any other way? I thought that there were pills or those pens that people use.”

“There are one or two other options, but I honestly prefer this. There’s an insulin pump that is surgically attached and auto-doses the insulin- but I’m too active for that and don’t like the idea of an implant. The pills don’t work for Type I. The pens are nice, but they are pre-dosed and with needing to make adjustments based on what I need, they are not always practical. When I fly, I do carry the pen because it’s the easiest thing to get through security. This is just part of who I am.”

Liz remembered all the times through her childhood when she was picked on or called a freak. Her step-mom was one of the worst. When her father married Fran, the new Mrs. Bennet had been all sweetness- at first. That lasted only until she realized what was involved in helping monitor and care for a child with such a serious condition. Liz knew she was loved in her own way by Fran Bennet, but it was not the same as the unconditional love that her own dear mother had freely given.

Darcy noted the melancholy look on her face and wondered what the cause of the hurt he saw there was. It was unconscionable that the vivacious and lively woman sitting beside him should have any cause for sadness, she seemed to be such a beacon of life that the very idea that she could be carrying around pain seemed very wrong to Will. He wished there was something he could say to cheer her up or take away whatever had caused the sparkle to disappear from her eyes, but he didn’t know where to begin.  Being at a loss for words, yet having an overwhelming urge to offer her comfort, Will did the only thing that came to mind: he reached over and pulled her into an embrace.

Liz was taken by surprise by Will’s spontaneous hug but was even more surprised when she began to cry. Will held her tighter with his left hand while his right smoothed her hair as her head was on his shoulder. He was whispering to her, “Shh now Liz, whatever it is, it’s alright.”

She listened to Will’s words and knew that it would, indeed, be alright.

She sat up, grateful for his presence, and wiped her tears away. “There. All better.”

Darcy doubted the truth is Liz’s statement as he questioned, “Really?”

Liz tried to smile, but it clearly wasn’t the genuine, brilliant smile he’d witnessed before. “No- but I will be. Thanksgiving is a little rough for me, but it’s okay.” She turned her eyes upward to his and added, “Thank you Will. The hug was exactly what I needed and I really will be alright.”

Wanting, needing to say something, but finding there was a lump in his throat, Will broke away completely from Liz and focused his attention outside for distraction. When he had contained his thoughts at last, he lamely said, “It seems the snow has let up somewhat now…”

The windows were foggy and wet, making it hard for Liz to judge the snowfall. She attempted to roll the window down but it wouldn’t move. She tried to restart the car, but it wouldn’t turn over. She once again uttered, “Crud monkey!”

Will made a mental note to ask about her unusual phrase but for now was more concerned that the car wouldn’t start. “What do you think is wrong with it? The battery perhaps?”

 Liz shook her head no. She told him to watch as she turned the key over and there was a horrible clicking and grinding noise. “It sounds to me like it might be the alternator. That’s just fantastic.”

“Alternator?” Will knew lots about many things but was not in the least mechanically inclined. “Is that something you can fix?”

She thought this was rather adorable. It sounded to her like poor Will didn’t have a clue and it was refreshing that it didn’t bother him. No other man she knew would ever admit such a deficiency of “manly knowledge” as her dad had termed it.

“If it is the alternator, no, I can’t fix it. At least not here on the side of the highway. It’s honestly too cold out there for me to go fussing under the hood. And before you go and offer to be chivalrous, it’s too cold out there for you also.”

Will chuckled, “Oh no, I wasn’t going to. You have no worries there about my chivalry. I guess my bastard tendencies aren’t completely cured. The only thing I ever do under the bonnet is replace wiper fluid, so I wouldn’t be of much use anyways.”

She smiled at his attempt to lighten up the situation with humor. “Well in this case, that’s fine. The temperature is dropping and it’s way too cold out and neither of us are really dressed for this weather.”  

Liz reached into the backseat to retrieve her purse and began to dig through her wallet. “I know it’s in here somewhere… aha!” She flashed a gold and black plastic card at Will.

Punching in the number for AAA, she waited patiently as she listened to all the options before finally getting to roadside assistance. Liz then punched in her member number and waited in the phone queue once again. What seemed like an eternity later, an automated message informed her that all operators were currently assisting other members and the wait time was forty-five minutes. Knowing that she ought not sit on her cell that entire time, she hung up and said once more, “Crud monkey.”

Will was now more curious than ever, both about what they would do and her unusual exclamation. “I take it the call didn’t go well?”

She was annoyed with the situation and was working hard to moderate her voice so she didn’t take it out on him. With audible strain, she answered, “No, it did not. AAA is backed up with an over forty-five minute wait just to place a service call. With the storm and the weather being what it is, I imagine it would be several hours before we could even get a jump or a tow. For the time being, it appears we’re stuck here.”

 

*Chapter Six*

Will had been up now for nearly twenty-four hours. He was exhausted and as much as he was enjoying Liz’s company, longed to just go to sleep in a warm bed. Not having any ideas of his own aside from just waiting in the car, he asked, “What do you think we should do?”

Liz considered all the options for a moment. “It snowed too much and is much too cold for us to hike it. I’m not even sure how far it is to the next exit. It’s dark out and visibility is poor, even though the snow has let up. I think for now, the only option is for me to call my sister and you to call your friend and simply wait.”

Will pulled out his mobile and dialed Bingley. The machine answered and Will had to leave a message. “Uh, hello Chip. This is Will. Obviously I’m not there yet and it seems it’ll be a while longer as there’s something wrong with Liz’s car. I’ll call later when we’re moving again but for now I’m going to turn my mobile off so I save the battery. In case I don’t make it tonight, Happy Thanksgiving Old Man! Bye.” He turned his mobile off and confessed to Liz, “I really hate leaving messages on machines. It’s such an awkward one-sided conversation.”

Liz nodded her agreement. “I know exactly what you mean. Phone tag is the worst game ever. I guess I ought to give my sister a call before she calls out the National Guard.”

She dialed Jane’s cell and was greeted by the chipper sound of Jane informing she wasn’t available to take the call and if she’d please leave a name and number, she’d be happy to return the call as soon as possible. “Crud monkey. Guess I need to try the house. She didn’t answer her cell.”

Will offered, “Maybe she’s in that tryptophan coma you were talking about earlier.”

“Very likely! JJ always cooks way too much food. All I know is she better have saved me a drumstick. That’s all I want, one drumstick!”

Liz dialed the number to the house and the machine picked up there as well. “Alright JJ… when you get this message, please don’t freak out. The rental car is having an issue and were stuck somewhere on 94 near the border. Will is here and he’s very nice…say “Hi” to JJ Will.” She stuck the phone near to Will’s face and he laughed and said, “Uh, hi JJ. You have a very nice sister and I promise you have nothing to worry about.” Liz took back the cell and added, “See? Perfect gentleman. You and dearest Bil have nothing to be concerned with and I’ll get there as soon as I can to meet your precious Mr. Fancy Pants. I’m turning off my cell to save what little battery I have left. Oh! And you better save me a drumstick or I’ll tell dad on you! Love you JJ and see you and Bil later!”

She switched off her cell and tossed it into her purse. Clapping her hands together and rubbing them vigorously for warmth, Liz said, “Alright, now we need to just sit tight and stay warm.”

All sorts of ideas about how they might be able to stay warm came flooding into Will’s mind and he quickly tried to set those thoughts aside. She had told her sister that he was a perfect gentleman and so a perfect gentleman he would be. Even if it kills me.

His voice cracked like he was an adolescent as he asked, “How do you suggest we go about this?”

Liz did not want to go outside again. She climbed over the console into the backseat to look for a pass-through to the trunk and when she found it, she opened it and retrieved her carry-on bag. “I have a sweater and a small blanket in here. I think staying in the front seat would make sharing this really difficult. If you come back here too we can huddle together and stay warmer.”

Overriding the male instinct in his brain that was screaming ‘cuddling in backseat with hot girl’, Will remembered he had his travel blanket in his duffel as well. “Are you able to reach my bag too? I have a blanket from my sister in there we can use.”

Shoving and rearranging as best she could without actually seeing what she was doing, Liz finally felt the handle of  Will’s bag. “Got it! Now if I can just get it out of here.”

Will watched her struggle with it for a moment and could take it no more. Watching her from behind as he was had begun to eat away at his gentlemanly resolve. She was on all fours with her knees on the back seat and her arms and head inside the trunk area and Will was becoming painfully distracted with every move she made.

“Liz, it seems like you’re having trouble. Please, please, let me help you get it out of there.”

In a muffled voice he heard her whine, “I can’t!”

Knowing he would not be able to remain a gentleman very much longer if her backside continued to tantalize him like that, he snapped, “Why ever not?”

Liz’s muffled voice answered, “Don’t yell at me! I can’t because I’m stuck! Your garment bag’s shoulder strap somehow caught on the handle of my Pullman and I’m caught!”

Will called to her, “Okay Liz, wait there and I’ll get you out.”

She yelled as loud as she could, “Will you’re a genius! Wait here….where else would I wait?”

He was trying to work out how best to join her in the backseat without crushing her or giving his inappropriate interest away. Will sat on the console and swung one long leg at a time over the seat backs until he could semi straddle her and reach in to help untangle her from her confines. As much thought as he’d given to being close to Liz, this was not what he’d had in mind.

Failing to grasp the strap that had her caught, he said in frustration, “I can’t quite reach your arm Liz. I’m going to have to squeeze in underneath you to reach it. Is that alright with you?”

Being highly uncomfortable, not to mention very cold, she responded, “At this point Will, I don’t think we have any choice!”

“Okay. I’m not sure how to do this. I know you’re stuck but can you lift your shoulder just a bit so I can tuck under there?” She did and he slid underneath of her, pushing off the back of the seat with his legs. He wiggled and rocked side to side until he could bring his arms up around her and they were face to face.  To break the tension, he lamely joked, “Hello! Fancy meeting you here.” Will was pleased that his effort was rewarded with a giggle.

Knowing he needed to get down to business, he said, “Alright then, let’s see where we’re at. That’s a problem… I can’t see.” He fumbled with his sleeves until he freed his wrist and switched on the illumination feature on his watch. “And then He said, ‘let there be light’ and there was and it was good.” Will chuckled at his own joke and reached for the garment bag to unclasp the strap and free Liz.

Liz held her breath as being this close to Will seemed to affect her in ways she was not prepared at this moment to deal with. She tried to focus on something, anything, except that she was straddling the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Will had turned his head to focus on removing the strap and Liz decided to concentrate on his hair. His hair smells like mint. Is that right? No, there’s something else there too. Vanilla? She leaned down and inhaled his scent. Liz tried and tried but could not stop the sneeze that resulted from her nose being tickled by Will’s hair. “Oh God! I am so sorry! Will, I swear I didn’t mean to sneeze on your head. It’s just your hair tickled my nose and I couldn’t help it… please, say something!”

He turned and looked at Liz; her eyes appeared to be full of concern, or at least they appeared to, from what he could see in the dim glow his watch afforded. He smiled at her and she smiled back as he feebly offered, “Bless you?”

At that moment, she heard the click and the strap loosened around her arm and she knew she was free. Liz pulled her arm out from under the garment bag and shoved the Pullman as best she could and at last had the duffel sure in her hand.  They both breathed a sigh of relief that she was free but each keenly felt all the awkwardness of being in such close quarters. 

Knowing that she needed to move before she made a bigger fool of herself, Liz started to back out of the trunk area until she realized there was a problem.

“Will?”

“Yes Liz?”

“My arm is asleep. Well, it was asleep and when I tried to back out, it woke up and it really, really hurts.”

Realizing this was as good of an excuse to remain close as he was likely to find, he offered a solution. “Just lie still until the pins-and-needles pass. I promise you won’t crush me. I imagine your neck and shoulders are pretty tense…you can relax your head on my shoulder and then when it passes, we can move on to huddling in the backseat.”

Liz felt the inner struggle of her emotions. Part of her wanted to smack him and call him a cad while yet another part dearly wished to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him. She settled for just doing as he suggested instead.

She shifted her weight off her left arm so the feeling could be once again fully restored. Carefully pulling her arm out of the trunk area, Liz looked for somewhere to rest it but the tight space left few options.

Will was pleasantly surprised when her arm came around his waist. “I’m sorry Will, there’s nowhere else to put my arm.”

Liz felt his chest rumble against her ear as he softly chuckled. “Please Liz, stop apologizing for everything. Your arm is perfectly fine where it is. In fact, it makes it easier to do this.” He pulled Liz close and arranged the sides of his coat so they came up around her.

Instantly feeling much warmer, she whispered, “Thank you Will.”

Smiling to himself, he quietly answered, “My pleasure.”

 

*Chapter Seven*

In the stillness of the moment, Liz let her mind drift as she thought about what a long day this had been. When she awoke this morning she had watched the morning news on TV as she finished wrapping presents before heading to Logan International. When her connecting flight out of Philadelphia had been delayed, she had cursed herself for being too cheap to get a direct flight.

Upon arriving at O’Hare, her Pullman had the tell-tale sticker on it that indicated her bag had been rifled by the TSA. At least for once her kit had been left intact and, as a bonus, none of her underwear had gone missing. When she arrived at the rental agency and had to wait for a car to be readied, it was the first time all day that she had an opportunity to just sit and not be stressed out…and then Will Darcy walked into her life.

Liz smiled and snuggled closer to him and was just beginning to drift out of consciousness when she was startled by a soft snore which resonated through his chest. She turned her head to watch him in his peaceful slumber. He’s even gorgeous when he snores! She laid her head back down and pulled his coat over them as best she could.

Just as Liz was closing her eyes again, she recalled some survival advice her father had drilled into her head when she was learning to drive. What was it Pop always told me? Something about hypothermia and needing to stay awake if I was ever stuck in the cold I think. Poor Will! He must be just plain worn out! I really hate to wake him up…but what if our health really does depend on it? I should have paid better attention to Pop. Here goes nothing.

“Will?” she whispered quietly as she nudged his shoulder. When she received no response except a snort in addition to his snoring, she knew she needed to be a little firmer. “Oh-h Will. Wake up Will. We need to stay awake for a while longer. I know you’re tired, but I need to get you to Madison for your real, American Thanksgiving.”

Will sleepily mumbled, “Nmm-mm, don’t wanna get up, wanna keep sleeping with Liz.”

Liz blushed from head to toe and was grateful for the cover of darkness. If he kept saying such things, she’d be able to keep them plenty warm all on her own! She knew she needed to try once more to wake him.

She gently chided as she tried to shake his shoulders, “Okay sleepyhead, you need to wake up Will.”

Will softly groaned as he pulled Liz tighter.

Being held close by Will Darcy was definitely not the worst thing that had ever happened to Liz Gardiner. All the same, she did need to wake him up nonetheless. “Will Darcy! I need you…”

Liz didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence, as Will kissed her forehead and whispered, “I need you too Liz. Shh, now go back to sleep, my love.” His hand patted her back and then he gave her another squeeze before the snoring resumed.

To say that she was shocked and surprised was a bit of an understatement. He’s clearly dreaming…about me? It’s the jet-lag. He’s exhausted and not thinking straight. He’s dreaming about me! Wait…what exactly is he dreaming of? Oh my….

With a new urgency, she tried earnestly once again to wake the slumbering dreamer. “William! You need to wake up now! We both need to stay awake until help comes.”

He began to stir a little, but was disoriented until he felt Liz’s soft form lying against his own.

When Liz felt Will begin to slightly move around, she let out a sigh of relief. “Will? Are you really up now?”

Oh God! Her choice of words is going to kill me! Between his vivid dream and her physical presence, his body had responded the same as any normal man’s. Will was still trying to shift so the evidence of his attraction wouldn’t betray him when Liz spoke again, “Are you still up Will?”

Heaven help me, yes I am! Still holding her tightly with his left arm, he rubbed his face roughly with his right hand. “I am definitely up Liz.” Raking his fingers through his hair and scratching his itchy chin he asked, “Why didn’t you just let me sleep?”

She explained her reasons. “I remembered something my dad had said about it being dangerous to fall asleep in the cold like this. Something about frostbite or hypothermia, I think. I don’t really recall specifically. It’s still relatively early and I think we need to try to stay awake.”

 Still groggy and not wholly himself yet, Will whined a bit. “I had just begun a lovely dream and then you interrupted it.”

Smiling as she had a small idea what the dream might have been, she goaded him on. “Did you now? Perhaps you’d like to share?”

Knowing he should not, he dissembled, “I don’t really recall exactly what it was, but it felt lovely.”

Liz’s soft giggle against his chest was not helping the situation, and neither did her saucy answer, “I’m sure it did.”

Darcy was now acutely uncomfortable and begun to wonder if had had been talking in his sleep. Georgiana had once told him he did so, but he didn’t believe her any more about that than he believed her about his alleged snoring. Now he wondered if it was a possibility.

Not really wanting to let her go, but knowing he needed to, he questioned, “If your arm is no longer asleep, perhaps we should move into the backseat now?”

 Liz was plenty warm enough now. Indeed, she wasn’t sure how much more warmth she could stand under the circumstances! Seeing no good reason to move as long as he was comfortable, she answered, “As long as you’re alright, and I’m not crushing you, I think we’re alright here as we are.”

Will could be nothing but pleased. “But are you sure you’re warm enough? That suede coat of yours doesn’t seem adequate, and as we failed in our blanket rescue, I just want to make sure you aren’t too cold.”

Her answer made his heart beat faster. “I’m not, and, if I should become so, I am sure you’ll help keep me warm.”

Darcy replied, “Most happily.” He thought about the strange turn of events that had him half stuck in a trunk on the side of a highway on an American holiday in a snowstorm. If Liz had not given him a ride, it was very likely that she would still have been stuck here, only all on her own!

“Liz?” he said quietly.

“Yes Will?”

“Thank you for giving me a ride.”

She laughed and lightly smacked his chest. “Oh, I’m sure you wish you’d have taken the cab instead.”

Will’s voice grew serious, “No. This is exactly where I want to be right now…here with you.”

Doubting, Liz asked, “On the side of I-94 in a dead car?”

Darcy knew his tenuous grasp on gentlemanly behavior was slipping. Liz was far and away the most enticing woman he’d ever met and he needed very much to kiss her.  His sonorous baritone voice assured her, “Yes. On the side of I-94 in a dead car.”

Hearing the certainty in his voice, all she could manage in reply was, “Oh.”

Her begun to spin with possibilities and his voice intruded. “Liz?”

It took a moment for her to realize he was addressing her. “Yes Will?”

“I…I’d like…I…” he stammered, unable to find the words he wanted to say. “Damn.”

With tender concern Liz asked, “What is it Will? What is it that you’d like?” 

 “This.” was the one word answer Will gave her just before he kissed her very surprised mouth with his very hungry one.

Liz’s astonishment lasted only a moment before she returned his kiss with equal enthusiasm.

Will was thankful that she hadn’t smacked him for taking advantage of their situation. “That is what I’d like Liz.” He planted several more kisses on her forehead and temple. “I’ve very much wished to kiss you, almost from the moment you called me a bastard. Please say that you’re not angry.”

 The incredulity in her response was unmistakable. “Angry? Oh Will, I think not.”

If Will had doubts about her assertions, they were silenced when Liz’s arms encircled his neck and began to rain a series of passionate kisses on his face. It was only after every inch of his face had been explored and worshipped that she claimed his firm lips with her own soft ones.

Neither Will nor Liz were concerned any longer with being cold now. In truth, the situation was rapidly heating up. Liz was pleased to find that her assessment of Will’s build being athletic was accurate and Will was happy to find that Liz’s figure was beyond what he had imagined.

Liz had just discovered a particular spot just behind Will’s ear that made him ticklish. Will had similarly found that where Liz’s shoulder met her neck would elicit the softest of moans if he kissed it just so. Intent on seeing what else they could learn about each other, they continued their examinations in earnest.

A bright light unexpectedly shone, causing them to wince.

Will began to say, “What is…” but was interrupted by the sound of a Mag light rapping on the driver’s window.

 

*Chapter Eight*

Liz scrambled out of the trunk as quickly as she could. This was unfortunate for Will as his inappropriate interest was crushed by her knee causing him to make an inhuman guttural sound in pain. Liz was already climbing her way into the driver’s seat when Will finally had recovered enough to sit upright without whimpering.

The windows were fogged on the inside and Liz muttered about not being able to roll the window down. The diffused light shone inside the car once again as the tapping resumed. Will had carefully managed to make it to the passenger seat without any more damage to his person and asked Liz what they should do.

She complained, “All I can do is open the door. Be prepared Will, I think it’s about to get cold in here.”

 “It already is…” he mumbled under his breath.

Liz, having heard him, shot him an irritated glare just before she opened the car door.

She cracked the door open only a little. “I’m sorry; the car seems to be dead.” Liz explained. “That’s why I couldn’t roll down the window.”

“That’s understandable ma’am. However, I’m going to need to see your license and registration as well as taking a peek inside your vehicle.”

Liz sighed in frustration. “Can’t I just hand them out to you? It’s freezing out there!”

“Ma’am, I’m well aware of the weather. License and registration, now please.”

“Alright, alright. Just a moment. Will, can you hand me the rental envelope out of the glove box?”

Will found the King envelope and handed it to Liz as she asked. She laid her hand on his and feigned a smile, “Hopefully, this won’t take too long and we might even get some help.”

Thinking that he was ungrateful for the chance to be rescued because all he really wanted was five more minutes in the trunk with Liz; he, too, faked a smile, “That’s great.”

She braced herself for the blast of frigid air and opened the door all the way to see an Illinois State Trooper standing before her.

Normally, an Illinois Trooper would seem very impressive standing proudly in their distinctive brown uniform and hat. Liz would have also been impressed if the Trooper was anyone but Bill Collins.

The moment she recognized him, he had done the same with her. While she’d rather receive a ticket with a huge fine and be done with it, he was pleased as could be with this fortuitous reunion.

Collins’ demeanor had gone from Cool Hand Luke to Reno 911. “Lizard! As I live and breathe, is that really you?”

Will’s mood lifted a little at hearing her called Lizard. He failed at suppressing his chuckle entirely and was punished with a light smack on his arm.

Wishing against hope that Collins would simply go away, she answered, “Yes Bill, as you live and breathe, it’s really me.”

Collins had a knowing smirk on his face that very much reminded Liz of her step-mom. She tried to shake away the mental image of Fran Bennet’s winking and nudging as she was brought back to the moment by Collins asking, “And Lizard, who is that you’ve got in there with you? Can’t help but notice the windows are all steamed up…”

“Bill Collins, this is my friend Will Darcy. Will Darcy, this is Illinois State Trooper Bill Collins. His father is my Godfather as my father is his. We grew up together in Kenilworth. Bill here married my step-sister’s half-sister Charlotte Lucas. How is Lottie these days Collins? I’m heading up to see JJ and she’ll love to hear any news.”

The stout man began to beam and look almost jolly. “Oh my sweet Lottie-pop is wonderful! We’re about to have another little baby girl and I’m a very lucky man! You know, you turning me down was the best thing that ever happened to me.” Liz was about to protest that some things from the past should remain there, when he began again, “Oh Lizard, don’t get me wrong, I was angry with you for a long time… but my little Lottie-pop is perfect for me and I daresay that we were designed for each other.”

Liz stole a glance at Will who seemed greatly amused by this exchange. She smiled and rolled her eyes in exasperation before she turned back to Collins.

“Well, Lizard… you said that this car is dead. Shall I try giving it a jump?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “I honestly don’t think it’ll help. I think it’s the alternator. Even if it does magically start with a jump, if it is the alternator, it won’t make it all the way to Madison.”

“Well, let’s give it a shot anyways! Then I can tell Lottie that I did my best to help old Lizard.”

Liz scoffed, “Old? Lottie’s older than I am!”

“Alright Lizard… if you say so. I’m going to pull the car around, and while I do that, you pop the hood.”

“Sure Collins, I don’t think it’ll work, but it can’t hurt anything I suppose.”

Liz shut the door and began rubbing her hands together for warmth. Will had so many questions that he hardly knew where to begin. “Lizard? The very last word I’d ever think to call you would be lizard.”

She shook her head, “No Will, had you grown up with us in Kenilworth, you’d have called me Lizard too.”

Darcy still couldn’t believe all he’d heard. “I somehow doubt that. Did that man really make you some sort of offer?”

Liz laughed, “Every day from the age of thirteen, right up until the day he asked Charlotte to marry him. Our fathers always thought it’d be sweet for their Godchildren to get together. It was alright when we were like two and they’d make us play together, but, as we grew older, Collins kept coming up with lines like ‘destined to be together’ and ‘companion of his future life’. It was actually kinda sad.”

Will really did feel sympathy, but still found the idea of that man following her around for years like a puppy too funny. “What did you…” Will’s question was interrupted by the sound of Collins’ horn indicating that it was time for Liz to try to turn over the engine.

She turned the key only to make the engine sputter and choke. She tried several more times as Collins gunned his interceptor’s engine. Nothing seemed to work, so Collins shut off his car and made his way back over to Liz’s. “You were right as always Lizard. Have you called the rental company?”

Liz could not believe she hadn’t remembered to. “I haven’t. I did call AAA though and they are swamped. I left a message for JJ though that I’ll call again when I know something.”

“Call them now and then I’ll give you both a ride up to the next exit. You two managed to almost make it to Wisconsin. There’s a new bed and breakfast near the nature preserve and I’m sure that Helen can make some room for you at the inn. I’ll tidy up the patrol call while you make your call Lizard.”

She nodded to Collins, “Sure thing Billy.”   Then turning to Will, she confessed, “I can’t believe I didn’t think to call the agency! They’re supposed to have that ‘King of the Road’ concierge service and everything.”

Darcy sneered, “Yeah, I was really impressed with their exemplary service. I’m still unclear on how they can take reservations for cars they can’t guarantee will be there.”

Noting the return of the arrogant bastard persona, Liz retorted, “Yes, I can see how you’ve been greatly inconvenienced. So sorry to have ruined your holiday.”

Will tried to say something but she held up her hand to stop him. Turning on her phone, she dialed the number for King Enterprises Rental Agency. “Yes, my rental died. No, completely. Yes, a State Trooper is here and tried to jump the car and nothing at all happened. Uh-huh. Yes, I personally have AAA, but they are really busy, and with the storm, I don’t think I’m going to get towed tonight. Yes. Uh-huh. Really? Okay, that’d be great. Uh-huh. Okay then. I’ll hand the phone to the officer and he can give you the details. Thanks. Oh thank you! You have a happy Thanksgiving too! Just one moment…”

Collins took the phone from Liz, and when she shut the door once again, Will tried to make good his apology.

A sincerely sorry Will offered, “I am sorry Liz that I’ve ruined your holiday. I guess your proclaiming me cured was perhaps a bit premature?”

Still not happy with his quick mood shifts back and forth, Liz realized that he was tired and at least as stressed out as she was, so she decided to give him the benefit of doubt and forgave him. “Perhaps. A bit prematurely. But no, you haven’t ruined the entire holiday.”

The headlights from the police interceptor were shining into the car so she could see the relief wash over his face. Sensing that Will was perhaps as disappointed as she was by the timing of their rescue, she teased him by leaning over and whispering in his ear, “Especially the last bit before Collins showed up.”

Will turned his head and caught her mouth in a kiss before she could pull away and, for one moment, all was right once more.

The tell-tale tapping on the window alerted them that Collins had returned with news and Liz’s phone.

Opening the door, Collins noted Will’s glare and returned it with his ‘cop’ stare in equal measure. When Will looked away first, Collins grinned and handed Liz back her cell. “Here you go Lizard. I turned it back off for you because I saw you had a low battery. I spoke with the girl from the agency and she’s going to take care of everything with the Inn and Helen is expecting you.” He glared at Will and added, “And you too.”

“That’s great Collins. It’s so sweet of you to give us a ride. I’ll have to give Uncle Andy a call and tell him you’re doing the badge proud.”

Collins lapped up the compliment. “He’d love to hear from you. I know since your dad moved to Arizona, my dad complains that he hardly ever hears from him.”

Feeling the need to defend her dad, she tried to explain, “You know that Pop would if he could….”

“Lizard, you never, ever have to apologize for Fran.” Collins said sympathetically. “Your dad deserves a saint-hood for remaining married to that unholy shrew.”

Surprised at the vitriol coming from her childhood companion, Liz exclaimed, “Why Billy-boy! That may be the most unkind speech I’ve ever heard you utter.”

“She actually called my little Sylvia ‘the absolute ugliest little girl’ she had ever seen. Fran recommended that we enroll her in Carnie School because that would be her best chance to make a living.”

“Oh my. Lottie never told me that she had said anything so awful!”

“Because she knows you and Fran have a very delicate truce and she wouldn’t want you to jeopardize that for the world. She remembered how hard it was for your dad last time you and Fran battled it out.”

Liz was touched by her friend’s intuitiveness, “I promise I’ll give Lottie a call soon. You do know that she was the making of you, right?”

Collins grinned broadly, “Yes she was! My lovely little Lottie-pop has given me everything I ever wanted: a wife I don’t deserve, a beautiful family and a wonderful home.”

Remembering that the sooner he got Liz and her friend going, the sooner he could get home, he said, “Alright you two, let’s get all your belongings out of the vehicle.”

Will whispered to Liz to go ahead and get in the car, that he would get all of the baggage. When Liz began to protest, he explained, “I’m still working on my bastard tendencies. Let me do this for you.”

She smiled at him and his spirit soared as he realized that he was truly forgiven for his earlier grouchiness.

Collins opened the front seat passenger door for Liz and took a moment to ask, “So Liz, who is this guy that is holiday-date worthy and why haven’t I heard about him before?”

Liz realized what it must have looked like when he found them and she wondered exactly how fogged the windows had been. “Will is my friend and it worked out that we each needed to travel to Madison and so we’re carpooling. I promise that when I have any news worth sharing, I’ll share. Until then, however, my private life is, well, private. You remember how hard it was for me to ever have any privacy growing up!”

“I remember Lizard. Can I have a little fun with him and play big, bad cop-man? Please!”

Laughing at the idea of anyone possibly being intimidated by Billy-boy Collins, she agreed. “Go ahead. Do your worst. Just remember, he is my friend.”

“Sure Lizard, an awful close friend.”

She shoved his shoulder and accused, “You’re such a pervert! How long did you watch us before you banged on the window?”

Collins confessed, “Only long enough to know that if I’d arrived a few minutes later, I’d have had to arrest you both for indecent exposure and public lewdness. And then you wouldn’t have had any privacy at all.”

“I suppose you’re right. You usually were though, weren’t you?”

Nodding, Collins agreed, “Yep. Except about you. No offense Lizard.”

Not even remotely regretting for one moment having never become involved with Collins, she reassured him, “No offense either, but none taken.”

Laughing at the face she had made, he asked, “I ought to help your special friend, shouldn’t I?”

“If you wouldn’t mind…”

“Anything for you Lizard.”

Collins watched Darcy struggle with not dragging Liz’s large Pullman in the snow. When Darcy had made it to the interceptor’s trunk all on his own, then and only then, did Collins offer any help. Working together, they easily hefted the over-packed suitcase into the trunk. Darcy went back and retrieved his duffle and, after a moment spent re-attaching the strap, his garment bag. He tossed them into the trunk while “Billy-boy” stared daggers at him. Trying not to be unnerved by this gun-toting man who seemed not to like him because he was with Liz, he returned to sweep the inside of the car for all of their remaining things. Grabbing her carry-on and her kit, he checked everywhere he could think of and then realized to make a complete check, he’d need to borrow Collins’ Mag-light.

After he deposited the carry-on, he opened the kit to see if Liz had tucked her insulin bag in it and found she hadn’t. Sighing in resignation that he had no choice but to borrow the torch, he stood stick-straight hoping to use a little of his own brand of intimidation on the much-shorter man.

“Excuse me? It’s Collins, right? Might I borrow your torch so I can locate Liz’s insulin bag?”

Collins was all set to deny Will’s request. Yet when Darcy had shown he cared enough to double-check for her medication, Collins realized that Darcy must be at least a somewhat decent man. Without a word, he handed Darcy the Mag-light.

Darcy carefully checked the car and found the rental agreement packet, Liz’s sunglasses, his own mobile phone and- the prize he’d been searching for- Liz’s insulin bag. Feeling relief that he’d found it, he let out a deep breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. You’re getting in too deep Darcy….

Returning to the car, he motioned to the bag and grinned to Liz, “I found it!”

Liz grinned back and mouthed, “Thanks!” through the window.

Collins stepped forward and opened the rear passenger door, “In you go…” As Will began to climb in, Collins grabbed his head and pushed it down like he was a common criminal.

Darcy protested, “Hey! What are you doing?”

Big, bad cop-man Collins answered in his best big, bad cop-man voice, “Sir, I am protecting your head as you enter the vehicle. You’re rather tall and we can’t have you suing the great State of Illinois because a concussion ensues from you entering my vehicle. Now, I suggest you just sit back and enjoy your ride, courtesy of the Illinois State Police.”

Will sat down and rubbed the back of his head where Collins had gripped his skull much harder than he was certain was necessary. Collins slammed the door and had Liz not been present, Will was sure he would fear for his safety.

Collins got in the driver’s seat and asked, “Is everybody ready?”

 

*Chapter Nine*

 Will grumbled, “I suppose.”

“Yes, we are ready Billy.” Liz laughed and turned around and smiled at Darcy as he sat behind the bullet-proof divider. “I think my friend needs to be put to bed soon before he grows any grumpier.”

Collins just shook his head and whispered, “And that’s your job?”

Blushing, Liz tried to explain, “Yes. Well, no, I mean that he’s had a very long day and I know he’s exhausted and that’s why he’s being so moody.”

“Uh-huh.”

“No really, plus I’m sure your man-handling didn’t help. I thought you were just going to do the ‘failure to communicate’ bit with him. I really didn’t expect you to go all rough on him.”

Collins could not resist teasing the normally unflappable Lizard. “Jealous are we that I was handling your man? Maybe I should call Fran and inform her of the latest news…”

“No!” Liz shouted.

Will could only hear small snippets of what was being said, and, even then, it was only the loud ones. Just by watching their body language, Darcy could see that Liz was clearly becoming agitated with Collins. Will began to bang on the divider.

 Collins flashed a wicked grin at Will as he flicked on some music loudly in the backseat.

Will’s ears were assaulted by Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park. Will cringed as the overly dramatic chorus swelled and Harris crooned in his falsetto voice, “I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it, And I’ll never have that recipe again, oh no…”  

The song faded out at last and Will slumped with relief in his seat. While thinking that was a particularly cruel trick and devising various means of payback, Will recalled Collins carried a gun and didn’t seem like he’d hesitate at the chance to shoot him. That’s it Darcy, no more American cop movies for you… your imagination is obviously getting carried away.

After a moment of peace, Will was grateful for the distraction of a new song beginning. His gratitude was very short-lived as the next song turned out to be another version of MacArthur Park, this time sung disco-style by Donna Summer.

Darcy exclaimed, “Holy Hell!” and began to bang again on the divider.

Collins laughed at the picture Darcy made as he watched him squirm in his rearview mirror.

Liz felt great pity for Will and begged Collins to turn it off. “Billy, you’re not playing fair! Isn’t that ‘cake in the rain’ song against the Geneva Convention?”

“Oh come on Liz! I haven’t even gotten to the Sammy Davis or Shatner versions!”

When they were children, Liz had always been able to stare down Billy-boy and, despite his experiences in law enforcement; he found that things were no different now. Taking all he could of her evil-eye, he relented.

Collins turned the music off. “Alright, just by knowing you, I’m sure he’s suffered enough.”    

Recalling all which Darcy had been through today because of her, she admitted, “Guilty as charged.”

“See? That’s why I followed Dad and Uncle Tom onto the force… I can always spot the guilty!”

Disbelieving, Liz questioned, “Ha! Then who was it who stole your bike lock that time we all went to Indian Hill to swipe golf balls?”

Quite certain in his knowledge, he answered, “We all know it was LiLi, the little imp was always taking things that weren’t hers!”

Laughing and shaking her head no, she corrected him, “While LiLi was always a terrific thief, the Bennet who absconded with your lock that day was JJ.”

Will still couldn’t hear what was being said between the two of them, but he was pleased that Liz no longer appeared upset.

“Jane? Really? I didn’t think she had it in her!”

“Well, she didn’t really. Lindsey had ‘triple-dog-dared’ her to do it and then that night when she got home, she was so sick about the whole thing that she threw up. This is funny- you’ll really get a kick out of this- she actually buried the evidence! If you were to go to my old house and take five steps north from the garden shed, you’d find your lock buried about six inches deep.”

“And so ended Jane Bennet’s life of crime I take it?”

“Yes! Well, except for the time she stole something for prom night from Pop’s ‘special’ drawer… but that’s another story entirely!”

Collins was astonished, “I never pictured Jane as such a naughty girl! Maybe I pursued the wrong Bennet all those years ago!”

“That’s just it! Jane wasn’t naughty at all! She stole Pop’s condoms and proceeded to hand them out at the prom so that everyone would be careful! You should have seen the looks on people’s faces as she reminded everyone that there should be “no love without a glove”! Oh Billy, it was priceless!”

“I can imagine!”

They had finally arrived at the Wander Inn. Being in the middle of nowhere was the small bed-and-breakfast’s greatest charm. It was located near the nature preserve and was a respite in the wilderness for city folks to get away from it all and get back in touch with nature. At least that’s what the welcome sign said. Collins pulled the car up to the entrance and went around to let a nearly furious Darcy out of the backseat. Darcy knew that he needed to reign in his temper, for Liz’s sake, but with Collins baiting him, it was difficult at best.

As Collins opened the door, he touched his hand to the brim of his hat and said, “You’re welcome.”

Darcy knew how to do this. He could act civil with people he did not like. It was something he did all the time in board meetings and the like. All he had to do was pretend he was dealing with Aunt Catherine and then everything would be well and he wouldn’t make Liz think he was a bastard all over again.

Calmly and with great reserve, Darcy said, “Thank you. I really appreciate you picking us up when you did. I’m not sure what might have happened to us if you hadn’t come along when you did.”

It was the “us” that did it. Collins really was long over Liz. His marriage to Lottie had taught him what true affection and love with respect meant when compared with a mere childhood infatuation. Still… somewhere deep within him there was always a little foolish voice whispering that perhaps Liz regretted her treatment of his heart. As long as Liz remained single, the voice continued to whisper and what man would not relish the thought of such a woman secretly pining away for him?

And now there was this tall, handsome British guy who had come along with his concern and care, making out with Lizard in the backseat and his use of the word “us”! It was almost too much.

The more Collins thought about it, the more he realized that it really was only almost. It didn’t hurt as much as he thought the eventuality would. He knew then that Liz had been astute in her observation that Lottie really was the making of him.

“You’re welcome Darcy.” Collins was about to turn away but said instead, “I swear to God that if you hurt Lizard, I will hunt you down and… I will end you!”

Darcy heard the threat loud and clear. Yet something about the chosen words and the way Collins had said them rang familiar with Will. He tumbled them around in his mind until he remembered where he’d heard them expressed just so.

Unsure of himself, and realizing this could go very bad if he was mistaken, Darcy questioned, “By your pretty floral bonnet?”

Collins was impressed. “I didn’t realize the Brits were fellow Browncoats.”

With utter relief, Will replied, “Good sci-fi is good sci-fi, no matter which side of the Pond it comes from. Dr. Who gets watched, numbers-wise, more here than at home.”

Collins smiled, “Alright Darcy, you don’t need to say anymore. Anyone that can handle Lizard, who likes Firefly and Dr. Who is alright by me.”

Darcy grinned, “Can anyone actually handle Liz?”

Liz had gotten out of the car in time to watch the pissing contest become a mutual admiration society. She rolled her eyes at how silly men could be sometimes. It was cold and she wanted to just get her stuff and get into a nice warm room and grab a bite to eat.

“Hey Billy, he likes Python too. And no Billy, he agrees with me about Palin over Cleese!”

Looking Darcy up and down, he chided, “I knew he couldn’t be completely perfect. It’s nice to know super-Brit has at least one flaw!”

Not wanting to lose the ground he’d gained with Collins, though he wasn’t sure why, he offered Collins a choice, “Okay, Zoe or Inara?”

Collins brushed away the question, “That’s a trick question! Everyone knows the answer is Kaylee!”

“Good man!” Darcy stuck out his hand for a handshake truce which Collins accepted.

Liz shook her head in mock disgust and loudly complained, “Men!” as she headed into the Wander Inn.

Darcy and Collins came in carrying all the baggage and chatting like long lost friends. Collins set the carry-on and duffle down and explained how he needed to get a move on so he could get home and show Lottie just how thankful he truly was.

“Way too much information! Eww! It’s bad enough I know you’ve had sex with my friend, I don’t need any more details than that!”

“I wasn’t offering details Lizard! Anyways, you two have a good night and a somewhat happy Thanksgiving.”

Darcy said, “It was nice to meet you Collins.”

Shaking Will’s hand goodbye, he apologized, “You as well Darcy. Sorry about MacArthur Park. We use that to subdue rowdy suspects.”

Liz asked, “Does that actually work?”

“Better than Manilow!” he chuckled.

Giving her old friend a hug goodbye, she said, “Thanks for everything Billy! Send my love to Lottie, wait! Scratch that! Just tell her I said hello!”

Collins laughed, “Too late for that! I’m gonna give all sorts of love to Lottie!”

Covering her ears, Liz giggled and chanted, “La, la, la, I can’t hear you! La, la, la!”

With his hand on the door, ready to leave, Collins gave a warning to Will, “Good old Lizard will never entirely grow up! Just bear that in mind when she makes you completely insane!”

Taking her hands off her ears and folding them petulantly in front of her chest, she retorted, “I heard that!”

With the wave of his hand, Illinois State Trooper William Collins was gone.

Helen, the Wander Inn owner, had watched the whole episode and was greatly amused. Collins had called ahead and so she had managed to save one last room.

Nodding to Liz, Helen asked, “You ready to check in honey?”

“Oh, yes, let me just find my rental agreement.” Liz rifled through her purse and further explained, “The woman from King said they’d cover the expense of the room…”

Will handed Liz the envelope which he had in his breast pocket. “Is this what you’re looking for?”

“Thanks Will! You’re a lifesaver.”

Handing Helen the envelope with her customer number on it, Helen began typing the information into the registration computer. When she was finished, she handed Liz two room key-cards and said, “There you go honey. If you need anything, just give me a ring… dinner is over, but I can rustle up some leftovers for the two of you or there’s a pizza place just down the road that’s still open.”

It took a moment for what she said to register in Liz’s mind. “Excuse me, but is there any way we can get two rooms?”

Will was hurt. They’d already shared so much together, what difference would sharing a room make? As far as he was concerned, all he really needed was a bit of floor and he was good to go. Plus, if she wanted to be rid of him so easily, then fine, so be it! After I put up with all that nonsense with that cop-friend of hers shoving me in the backseat like I was some sort of hood and kneeing my balls she’s going to brush me off? Fine. I can get to Chip’s place on my own! I don’t need her.

Darcy stepped up to the counter. “Yes, I’d like a room as well please.”

Liz listened to the cold tone of his voice and tried to determine what exactly the problem was this time.  He didn’t really expect to share a bed with me…did he? I know we were close in the car, but there were extenuating circumstances! Oh Lord, he thinks I’m easy…maybe he is Jack the Ripper after all! Damn you Fran for putting thoughts like that in my head. No, Will doesn’t think you’re a slut… I hope!

Helen shook her head and was sorry to disappoint them both. “Just before you got here, I had a party of four come in and, as it was, I had already promised Billy that I’d put you up and so I only had one room to give the Elliot party. If you’d rather, you can try going back up Russell Road ‘til you pass 94 and then about seven or eight miles down there’s a little motel on the side of the highway. I gotta tell you though, that the Wander Inn is a much nicer place. The Dew Drop Inn is sort of a ‘no-tell’ motel, if you know what I mean.”

Darcy was in full reserve-mode, “I think we fully comprehend your meaning.”

Liz shrugged her shoulders at Will and asked, “What do you think we should do?”

We? I think you ought to go up to your room while I enjoy that chair over there.”

“Fine. Enjoy your chair! I was just hoping for a little understanding and privacy but as they’re full, I was willing to share with you. But if you’re going to insist on being childish, then really, sleep on the floor for all I care!”

“Do you care? A moment ago you couldn’t wait to be rid of me!”

“Is that what you thought? We get to a hotel and I have the nerve to want a room of my own and that means I want to get rid of you? Do you think all women want Will Darcy in their beds, or am I missing something? My, my, you have an awful high opinion of yourself, don’t you Mr. Darcy?”

He stammered as he struggled to find the right words to say, “Liz… that’s not what I meant at all. It’s just that…”

“Just what?”

He couldn’t take the intensity of the anger he saw in her eyes and looked down at his salt-stained loafers. “It’s just that I’m sorry. I couldn’t even pretend to know what it is that women want, but honestly? I don’t care about other women. The only woman’s opinion I care about right now is yours and it seems I’ve somehow really pissed you off again. I’m sorry Liz; would you please consider forgiving me?”

Feeling how tired she was and knowing that he was even more so, she rationalized that their nerves and lack of sleep was most likely the cause for all the touchiness. Holding one of the key-cards out, she offered, “You can stay with me tonight in my room under two conditions: one is that you buy me a pizza.” He laughed and nodded yes. “Good, good. Now condition two is that if you begin to snore again, I can suffocate you with a pillow.”

Darcy protested, “I do not snore!”

She handed him his key-card, “Oh yes Will, you most certainly do.”

Helen, who had no choice but to overhear the whole thing, timidly asked, “So then I take it you’d like the number for Riopelle’s?”

Darcy answered, “The lady wants pizza and so the lady shall have pizza.”

Handing Will a coupon flyer with the phone number on it, Helen said, “Good luck, Sugar!”

Before Will could answer, Liz remembered something and said, “Crud monkey!”

Will looked at her seriously and asked, “Is it your sugar?”

“It might be.” She looked up at him in apology with her big brown eyes and said, “Take me to our room Will.”

Smiling at her small concession, he answered her, “Happily.”

They set their things on the cart and found the way to their room down at the far end of the hall. Expecting the worst, Darcy braced himself as he opened the door. He found the light switch and when he lit up the room, Will was pleasantly surprised by the accommodations.

Being a bed-and-breakfast, the room felt more like someone’s absolute best guest room rather than a cookie-cutter hotel room. There was an oak roll-top desk with a leather office chair sitting before it. The dressers were real wood and not the particle-board laminate that is often found even in nicer hotels. The bathroom was bright and cheery, done in celadon green and cream colors, with lovely paintings on the wall. The wood floor was accented with homey braided rugs. There was also a lounge chair with ottoman and a small table and chair dinette set as well.

And, in the middle of the room, there was also a queen-sized four poster bed.

Darcy swallowed hard as he realized there was no way he could share that bed with her and remain a gentleman. He looked at the lounge and ottoman and decided he would just make do.

“Shall I ring for the pizza while you check your sugar?”

Liz nodded, “That’d be helpful Will. I promise you don’t need to be subjected to the peep show this time around.”

As she grabbed her kit and headed to the bathroom, Will thought to himself, I really didn’t mind.

Darcy looked at the flyer and asked through the door what her preferences were and was surprised, yet again, that she too liked pineapple and ham on her pizza the same as he did. He asked if she wanted a salad or bread as well and she said whatever he ordered would be fine. He ordered a little of everything and tried out the lounge to see if he’d be able to make it work.

Liz came out of the bathroom and was treated to the sight of Will sliding down to the floor as the ottoman rolled away, causing him to lose his balance. “What are you doing there?”

Once he was upright, he answered, “Seeing how to best make that-“ he pointed to the offending furniture “work as a bed of sorts. I’m sure I can jury-rig something for tonight.”

Liz looked at the rather short chair and the not-much-bigger ottoman and compared them to Will’s height. It would never work and it was silly of him to even try.

“You’ll never fit there. You take the bed and I’ll take the lounge.”

“No. I insist. The bed is yours.”

She glared at him, “You are awful stubborn when you choose to be chivalrous, aren’t you? I insist, the bed is yours.

Darcy returned her glare in equal measure, “Yes, I am stubborn, but no more it seems than you! It’s your room, it’s your holiday and, let’s not forget, you’re a lady and so therefore, by all rights, the bed is yours!”

“Fine, the bed is mine and I’ll determine how it should be used.”

“Excellent! I’m glad you can be reasonable.” he said as he rolled the ottoman back in front of the lounge.

“I’m glad you said ‘reasonable’.” She stood authoritatively, with her hands on her hips and continued,  “The only reasonable thing to do is to share the bed. You are too big for the chair and if you insist that I stay in it, then you have to share it with me.”

Darcy was once again on the floor. He’d unfortunately chosen the moment that she said “with me” to attempt to sit on the wheeled ottoman and he was literally floored by the suggestion.

Growing tired, if it was even possible to be any more tired than he already was, of her always having the upper hand, he figured he could be at least as stubborn as she was. If she thought her suggestion would make him change his mind about letting her stay on the lounge, then she was about to find she’d met her pig-headed equal!

He moved across the room and sat at the desk. “Fine. It’s settled then.”

Not cure what he’d agreed to, she said, “Great! Wait, what’s settled?”

Darcy spun around in the office chair with his hands laced behind his head and grinned at Liz as he proclaimed, “It’s settled that your idea is perfectly reasonable and that we’ll both share the bed. Together.”

Trying very hard to not show he’d succeeded in making her flustered, she managed to say, “Excellent.”

Half hoping she’d change her mind so he’d be proven right and half hoping she wouldn’t so they could once more be close, he agreed, “I think so.”

 

*Chapter Ten*

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, she began to feel very aware that beds were used for more than just sleeping. Suddenly uncomfortable with Will watching her like he was, she excused herself and explained that she was going to take a shower and get ready for bed while they waited for the pizza.

Will agreed that changing sounded like a good idea and he told her he’d shower in the morning but change for the night while she was in the bathroom.

He opened up his duffle and took out a pair of navy and green plaid boxers and a grey t-shirt. He began a search to see if there were any plastic laundry or dry-cleaning bags and he found two sitting on the shelf in the closet- what a happy thought indeed! He took one and put his well-worn clothes in it and he set the other one on top of her Pullman as he assumed she’d wish to do the same.

Looking around for something to occupy his time while he waited, Will decided against watching telly. If he flipped it on, he knew he’d get sucked into watching some dumb show instead of getting the rest he needed. There was a magazine full of activities for Northeastern Illinois, but as he was only spending the night, he gave that a pass as well. Sitting atop the desk he noticed a radio.

Calling to Liz, he asked if she’d mind if he turned it on. She hollered she didn’t and requested if he could find some Christmas music and explained how a lot of stations began to play all Christmas tunes as early as November first. He laughed and said that was ridiculous, to which she agreed. Liz explained she was getting in now that the water was warm but that she’d be out soon.

Will walked back towards the desk and tried to focus on the task of finding a radio station that was playing Jingle Bells and not on the thought of Liz Gardiner standing in all her natural glory just on the other side of the door.

He played with the dial, looking for any Christmas tune at all and when he reached 92.1, he found one. Bob Segar’s Little Drummer Boy was playing and he could hear Liz begin to sing along. The song finished and an announcer came on and told them that Racine’s Lite Rock 92.1 was the home of Christmas music for the workday and after a few quick ads, the next song began.

Will laid down for a moment on the bed to think about the day. When he left Heathrow that morning, he still had some control over his life. That was all gone now. The strange, vivacious, opinionated woman who was standing naked in the shower seemed to have taken over and, inexplicably, he didn’t seem to mind. She’s standing naked in the shower! She’s soaping up right now… maybe she’s… no! Stop it Darcy or you won’t survive the night! Where the hell is the bloody pizza?

He tried to shake off his lusty thoughts of Liz by listening to the music. He knew he recognized the song, it was Baby, it’s cold outside. Will realized that all the cards were stacked against him and he ought to just give up now.

Will listened as Liz sang merrily along. I’m sure she has no idea what she’s doing to me or she’d stop!

Liz loudly sang along, while Will thought the responses to himself. “I simply must go…” Baby, it’s cold outside. “The answer is no…” Oh darling it’s cold outside.  “This welcome has been…” I’m lucky that you dropped in.  “So nice and warm.” Look out the window at that storm. “My sister will be suspicious…” Man, your lips look delicious. “My brother will be there at the door…” Waves upon a tropical shore. “My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious…” Gosh your lips are delicious. “Well, maybe just a half a drink more.” Never such a blizzard before.

Knowing that Liz was only singing along and not to him, he sat up and changed the station.

Liz opened the door and said, “Hey! I love that song…”

Will was mesmerized. Liz stood before him clad in nothing but a towel. Her hair was much longer than he’d realized and it was wavy as it ran down her back and shoulders. There was water running down her neck which would pause for a moment at her collarbone where it would pool and then run down her chest and disappear into her cleavage.

Darcy was completely aroused and, knowing his boxers would give him away, he turned his back on her to say, “Liz, you are an astoundingly beautiful woman but, heaven help me, you’re naked.”

 Not thinking it through before she opened the door, she realized that she was, in fact, only wearing a short, wet towel.

Will’s physique had not gone unnoticed by her either. His long, lean legs boasted tight sinewy muscles. She wondered for a moment if he was a runner like she was. His grey Oxford shirt fit well while revealing a solid chest and well-developed arms. She was just beginning to appreciate his nice trim waist when she noted the state of his boxers and his sudden need to turn around. Liz smiled at how shy he was and wondered if his gallantry was on account of her.

Liz had never in her life been so attracted to a man as she was to Darcy and she was confused by her conflicting emotions. The normal feeling of being embarrassed and wanting to run back into the bathroom and put on her pajamas she understood; the impulse to drop her towel and run into his arms she didn’t. Liz knew she couldn’t stand there all night and that a decision needed to be made on what her next move would be.

Contemplating that it was perhaps fate that had thrown her and Will together, she made the decision to go to him after all. It went completely against her character but maybe because of the uniqueness of their situation it just felt right. Liz became flush just thinking about being in his arms again and having his lips caress her neck once more.

Liz shut the door and as the latch clicked, Will’s shoulders slumped in defeat. He assumed that she’d gone to hide out in the bathroom because of his lecherous behavior. He began to mutter aloud to himself, “Bollocks! Nice going… scare off the most fascinating woman you’ve ever…” and that was all that Darcy was able to manage to say. He had turned around to find that no, Liz had not gone into hiding, nor did he scare her off.

In truth, she was standing with her right hand holding the towel together just over her left breast and when she was certain she had his full attention, she let go, dropping the towel to the floor.

Will could not think, could not speak, could not breathe and could not move. After a moment or two, just enough blood managed to flow to his brain to grant him the gift of speech. “Are you sure Liz?”

She answered saucily, “Very Will-ing.”

In a flash he had closed the gap between them and wrapped his arms around her, crushing her against him as his lips payed reverence to the collarbone that had been his undoing earlier.

Liz wanted to verify what her imagination knew and made quick work of sliding Will’s t-shirt over his head. Her imagination had been wrong, as had the many stereotypes she’d heard about doughy, pasty-colored Englishmen. Will was definitely not pasty by any standard and, as she ran her fingers across his shoulders, down his chest and over his abdomen, found everything very firm.

Will lowly growled as she continued to run her nails lightly over his back. He pulled her tight against him so she could feel the full effect she had on him. She had felt his solid interest earlier in the car but that was nothing compared to now. As his left hand began a journey traveling downward along her spine, his right hand was exploring all the peaks and valleys of her neck and shoulders. When he realized she had to strain on her tiptoes to kiss him, he swept her up in his arms, problem solver that he was, passionately kissed her and then carried Liz to the bed.

Still in his arms, she giggled as she reached for the covers and tugged them down before he placed her upon the bed. Liz ducked under the covers and eagerly waited for Will to join her. He was about to get in beside her when she was he was still wearing his black dress socks. “Will? You can’t be serious.”

Not thinking that it was possible that he’d misread her and praying that she hadn’t changed her mind, he said with a tiny hint of aggravation, “About what?”

Liz found him quite sexy with that look of frustrated desire on his face. Feeling both pleased amused, she answered, “Your socks! You cannot come in here wearing those socks!”

Feeling tremendous relief, he exclaimed, “Thank God! I had thought… never mind what I thought. I think too much.” He sat on the edge of the bed and tugged the right sock off and, just as he had the left one in his hand, there was a loud knock on the door.

Will groaned in exasperation and said the first thing that came to mind, “Crud monkey.” He wondered what it was exactly that he had done to warrant such constant poor timing and what could he do to repent and make it stop? Knowing it was their dinner and that Liz needed eat, he had no choice but to get up and open the door. Liz buried herself deep under the covers while Will, left sock still flopping along, grabbed his t-shirt off the floor and hastily threw it back on before he answered the door.

“Uh, yeah, so I’ve got the order here for Darcy, eh?” said the gangly youth whose face unfortunately resembled the menu.

“Yes, and what was the total?” questioned a most impatient Will.

The pizza-kid replied with precise teenage articulation, “Uh, yeah, so that’s, ah, yeah, that’s gonna be $26.55, yeah, and that’s not including tip.”

Thankful that neither he nor Georgiana never had to work such a job, and on a holiday, too, he asked, “Forgive me, but what would the gratuity be on such a delivery on a holiday?”

“I dunno. Whatever it’s worth to ya to not hafta go out yourself in the weather.”

Darcy handed the kid forty dollars and asked if that’d be sufficient. The delivery-boy grinned ear-to-ear and nodded, saying, “Wow! Thanks mister! I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving!” Holding up the cash Will had given him, the pizza guy said, “Thanks to you, I know I will!”

Before the lad even turned around, Darcy shut the door and called out to Liz, “It’s all clear, Love.”

Sitting upright, she said “Thank God!” She then grabbed a sheet and ran to the bathroom.

Will tried not to dwell on the interruption and chose to focus on what would happen next. If all went as he hoped, they would quickly eat and then pick right up where they left off. Surely there couldn’t be any more false starts tonight, or could there? Will sure hoped not.

He took the food over to the small dining table and began to get dinner ready. In the large grocery sack that contained the salad and bread sticks, Darcy found some Styrofoam plates, plastic utensils, napkins and waxed paper cups. After having set the table, Will laughed aloud at the sight of disposable place settings. This was a very far cry, he was sure, from the intimate family dinner that Liz had anticipated sharing with her family, but he would do his best to make it, at the very least, a memorable holiday.

While Liz was getting dressed, she had a ridiculous thought. What if Will is Mr. Fancy-Pants? Wait- he’s wearing an Oxford, not a Cambridge, shirt. Plus he doesn’t look like a Fitz and he doesn’t really seem like the big corporate type. A sci-fi watching, Python-quoting, really hot CEO? That’d be too much! And Charlie would have told me if his friend was British, wouldn’t he? No, meeting Will is just a happy accident and the only thing I’m thankful for today!

Not having anticipated any amorous encounters on her weekend, Liz had only packed clothes that she loved and felt at home in. She had pulled on her favorite t-shirt, the funny one which had been a birthday present from the guys in the lab, and dug out her comfy, flannel MIT shorts. Sighing in resignation as she looked in the mirror, wishing that somehow she could transmogrify her dowdy clothes into sexy lingerie, she flicked off the lights and opened the door, determined to go with the flow- wherever the flow led.

She joined Will at the table where he was waiting for her. He held Liz’s chair out for her and kissed the back of her neck as he stood behind her while she took her seat. Smiling to herself that she just might enjoy this meal after all, Liz asked Will to sit down with her so they could begin.

As Will had already plated the salad, he assumed they were ready to begin. As he was about to take his first bite, Liz asked, “What are you doing?”

Will shook his head and looked at her as though she was crazy. “I thought it was pretty obvious that I’m about to start eating my salad. Is there something else I should be doing instead? A jig, perhaps?”

Liz giggled and then gently said, “Though I can’t begin to tell you how much I’d love to see you dance a jig, there is something else that we need to do first! I know that this is not your holiday and all, but you said your friend Chip promised you a real American Thanksgiving and to truly be Thanksgiving, we must give thanks!”

 “Give thanks? Is that where the Pilgrims were thankful that they were able to steal land from the indigenous people?”

“Yes, exactly!” she laughed. “Seriously though, we express our gratitude for family, friends and the things that are important in our lives. If I was in Madison, we’d have all held hands and gone around the table and shared what we were grateful for. Would you like to give that a try? It is tradition!”

It occurred to Will that there would be very little, if anything, that he could refuse her. “I guess I must, if, as you say, it’s tradition.” Taking her hand in his, as customs must be obeyed, he thought about his life and smiled when he knew his answer. “Alright then, Liz. I am thankful for my wonderful sister Georgie, for my job- which is not too terrible, I am thankful that my idiot friend Chip invited me here for this holiday but I find that I am exceedingly grateful that instead of spending it with him and his spinster-in-law, I’m here instead, spending it with you. Thank you Liz for taking a chance on me today.”

Liz was moved by his heartfelt expression and squeezed his hand in thanks. “I am happy that my exams are nearly over and my dissertation only awaits some finishing touches. I am grateful for JJ and Bil so that I have some family I can stand to be around. Today though, I’m mostly thankful that they were out of reservations at the agency today and that you are here with me and there’s no Mr. Fancy-Pants in sight! Thank you for sharing my holiday Will.”

With a twinkle in his eye, Will asked, “May we eat now?”

Letting go of his hand and lightly punching his arm, she answered, “Yes! But first you must recite in detail the Magna Carter and then….”

And then Liz was silenced by Will as he had earlier learned the surest was to make her stop talking was to give her mouth other occupation.

After a long and lingering kiss, she pushed him away. Teasingly, she said, “You think you’re really clever, don’t you? If you want a kiss, sir, all you need to do is ask! Remarkably, the same works if you wish me to be quiet!”

 Will was not used to being the object of being teased, but he thought as long as it was Liz who was doing the teasing, that he could grow very fond of it. He smiled, “I think I like my method, it’s more efficient as it results in both at once.”

Pleased that he had teased her back and was not offended by her impertinence, she said, “So long as you do not always choose the most efficient methods in everything. Some things, I believe, are well worth taking the time to do slowly and carefully, with great attention to detail.”

Darcy’s first thought as a man was to say to hell with the pizza and take her back to bed immediately. The second thought that quickly followed yelled at him for having the first thought and reminded him that he hadn’t eaten in forever and that Liz had a disease that required her to eat and soon.

“I promise you Liz, that I am nothing if not a man who would rather not do a thing if I cannot do it exceptionally well.” She blushed at his boast. “While this has been a most, well, stimulating conversation, I believe now we both must eat. I think we may need some energy if we wish to continue our conversation after dinner.”

She laughed and Will, still being new to how Liz’s mind would quickly jump from one thing to another, tried not to assume he was laughing at him. Liz saw the look of confusion and hurt flash momentarily across his face before it disappeared and she sought to reassure him by explaining why she laughed.

 As she began to rearrange the salad on her plate with her fork, she said, “My stepmom is the greatest of busybodies and gossips. For a tiny moment, I could picture her here demanding her share of the conversation and how much I would enjoy tossing her out of our room on her ear.”

Will laughed as he imagined a super-strong Liz spinning a faceless matron over her head and throwing her unceremoniously out the window. “No Liz, I agree. Our conversation would best be served by being held in private, just between the two of us.”

They managed to stop the flirtatious banter long enough to eat their pizza and salad. When they finished, they each were trying to think of the best way to transition back to where they were before without seeming like animals in heat and just ripping each other’s clothes off. Besides, Will was stuffed and he wanted to make good on his promises and thought it best to wait a bit so that he didn’t get a cramp or disappoint Liz in some other way.

Still sitting silently at the table, Liz suggested the go ahead and climb into bed where they could talk and snuggle, with no pressure, and take things as they come. Agreeing that this was a sensible solution, he further suggested that they go ahead and brush their teeth and make any other preparations necessary. She giggled and teased him about being still being so efficient and he assured her it was only so that he could spend the time saved later on her.

They stood side by side in the bathroom as they shared a sink while Will brushed his teeth and Liz flossed. Gazing at the picture of unexpected domestic harmony that was reflected back, Liz felt a pang of longing in her heart. This, this is what I want for my future. Will I find someone like this to love who could always be there for me? Yeah, don’t count on it Elizabeth. The one thing that life has taught you well is that happiness is fleeting at best. It’s too bad, really, Will is pretty amazing.

Will also was struck by the sight of how well they looked together. We match. We really look like a matched set, an honest-to-God couple! Maybe, when I get back to London, I’ll take Georgie up on her advice and I’ll stop being such a damned hermit. I don’t know what good it would do though; it seems I’ve already met the perfect woman. I know, I know, it’s impossible. “Hey Liz, I know you are just finishing up your degree, but would you want to drop everything and come with some guy you barely know and start life over in a new country where you don’t know anyone?” She’d think you barmy!

Liz traded Will her floss for his toothpaste and they continued getting ready in silence. When they were finished, they set everything down and held hands as they climbed into bed together.

They were both now minty-fresh, plaque-free and ready for whatever would come next.

~Home~

~Next~ 

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

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