*Chapter Eleven*

 Will understood that just because Liz was willing, he still didn’t have the right to jump her bones. He knew they, well he, needed to slow things down. It had been a few years for Darcy and, after the utter disaster of the last time he had sex, he really wanted everything to be perfect. Will figured they would begin by cuddling together, like they had earlier in the trunk, and they’d maybe get to know each other a little better. As attracted as he was to Liz, there was more to it than simple, physical chemistry. She intrigued him and captured his interest like no other woman had ever done before.

Liz was moving her legs up and down, back and forth, very rapidly to create friction so her legs would warm up under the cool sheets. When she was finished, the covers around her looked like a tornado had blown through. She looked at where Darcy lay and noticed that the bedding was hardly disturbed at all. He had managed to slip in without un-tucking anything. Liz always wondered how people could do that. She always felt too choked and pinned-down when everything was made up tight as a drum.

Darcy had watched Liz’s antics trying to warm up the sheets and remembered something that Collins had said about how she’d never entirely grow up. She had disheveled the bedding just as sure as she as disheveled his life and he enjoyed both more than he was certain was good for him. The contrast was stark- she was messy chaos and he was neat order. He chuckled at the differences, she was adorable and he was enchanted.

Will turned to his side and propped his head up with one arm and said huskily, “Are you quite through destroying the bed? I’m a little diappointed that I didn’t even get to help.”  

Turning to face him, she mimicked him and propped up her head and teased, “You may still have a chance.”

Her smile was so impish that he could not resist kissing her. He leaned over, gave her a tender kiss and then tickled her a bit to pay her back for her tease.

She laughed and giggled until she was breathless and then pleaded for him to stop, which he did immediately. Liz sat up and admonished him, “You, sir, do not play fair!”

 He gently pulled her against his chest, kissed her temple and said innocently, “Play? Oh no, I am most definitely not playing.”

Liz sighed heavily against Darcy’s chest, “Then would you kindly explain what it is exactly that you are doing then?”

He laughed, “Playing is what you do in a game.  Really though, I don’t know what I’m doing. I think that’s one that we’ll need to work out together.”

She was enjoying the feeling of being held very much. “Hmm. That sounds like it could be promising.”

“I hope so.” Will replied as he stroked his hand through Liz’s hair. The soft sounds she involuntarily made as he continued signaled her approval. “I do have a question for you, but I must confess I’m afraid it might lessen your opinion of my intelligence.”

Intrigued, she sat up a little to look at him. “Could that even be possible?” she asked with mocked seriousness.

Darcy whopped her with the pillow from behind his head. “Probably not, but still…”

Liz laughed. “Very good! You are learning to give and take being teased! Definitely a step in the right direction. With a little luck, you might be a new man before the New Year!” She handed Will back his pillow and continued, “Now what is this question that has the power to change my good opinion of you?”

Darcy felt ridiculous, but he really wished to know. “Your shirt. I’ve seen similar things, mugs and such, but I’m afraid I don’t entirely understand the cat part.”

 For a moment, Liz had forgotten which Schrodinger shirt she was wearing. Today’s choice, which showed a dead cartoon cat that read I killed Schrodinger’s Cat with Occam’s Razor was a gift from a group of students that she had tutored and was her current favorite of the cat shirts. “Before I explain it, what do you know, or recall, about Occam’s razor?”

Reaching into the recesses of little-used uni knowledge, Will managed to pull out a few remembrances of basic physics. “Isn’t Occam’s razor the principle where the simplest strategy turns out to be the best one?”

Slightly impressed that he recalled any part of it, she nodded and explained, “Yes, ‘pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate’ or ‘plurality should not be posited without necessity’. So, Erwin Schrodinger posited a theory, a rather simple one, to show the flaws of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. His thought experiment, or paradox, states that a cat, left with poison in a bottle, sealed away from quantum decoherence, exposed to radiation, or not, in the box which may or may not break the vial, may or may not kill the cat. Now, according to the Copenhagen interpretation and this is where Schrodinger was brilliant to point out that this can’t (well most likely can’t) happen, the cat would be alive and dead because we have to allow for the possibility that both options could have happened simultaneously. The cat, to someone outside the ‘reality’ of the box, would appear dead or alive, not both. So, Schrodinger’s paradox was set forth to explain how poor another theory was and saying that Occam’s razor killed the cat is just being ironic. Well, kind of. I have about eight or nine different Schrodinger shirts. I swear no cats were ever harmed!”

 Trying to digest what he heard, he asked, “So, is this imaginary dead-and-alive cat like your field’s mascot?”

She grinned, “Of course, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think so.”

Will was surprised by how turned on he was by watching her light up as she spoke about physics theories. I must be even more tired than I thought. I’m in bed with an amazingly beautiful woman for the first time in years and what do I do? I ask her about the t-shirt she’s got on. No wonder it’s been so long! I can imagine that all those young guys she teaches are all in love with her, I know I would be! She has such an obvious passion for what she does. I wonder if I have that kind of passion for Pemberley?

“I’m sorry Will, I just ramble on sometimes. Anyways, one of the study groups I mentor gave me this for my birthday this year.”

Will thought of her study group and realized he was jealous of a bunch of eighteen-year-olds. “There’s no need to apologize. I bet you’re a hell of good a teacher. Do you intend to keep teaching when you finish your doctorate?”

“As much as I do enjoy it, no, I won’t continue teaching. I have a few things in the works, but nothing is concrete yet and I don’t want to jinx it or get my hopes up prematurely.”

“What does your family think? Are they excited to have their very own academic superstar in the family?”

Liz was quiet for a moment as she though through her answer. “My dad is proud, I suppose. We don’t really speak too much anymore. My step-mom is furious that I’ve ‘wasted my youth’ pursuing something she doesn’t value or understand. To Fran, I failed at college because I didn’t get my M.R.S.”

Will interrupted, “M.R.S.? I know that some degrees aren’t exactly the same in the US as in the UK, but I’m not familiar with that one.”

Liz laughed aloud, “Pushy moms don’t send girls to college in England just to find a husband and earn their Missus? Well then, it must truly be a more civilized place!”

Feeling like such a slow coach and hoping it was simply because he was tired, Will said, “I cannot believe I didn’t catch that!”

“It’s alright. Anyways, so no, my folks don’t really have too much to say about my achievements. My sister, well actually she’s my step-sister, JJ is proud of me even though she thinks like Fran does too. My other step-sister Mimi thinks I should have actually gone into nuclear physics instead. My half-sisters CC and LiLi are two of the most self-absorbed, irritating and vacuous teenagers to ever enter a mall.”

“Wait- JJ, Mimi, CC and LiLi? Wow. I’m not sure what to say about that.”

“I know, neither do I. I’ve never entirely fit in with them and my name was the least of the reasons why.”

“If things were so bad with your step-mom, why didn’t you just go live with your real mom?”

“That would have been tough. She died, well, was killed really, by a drunk driver, in front of my very own eyes when I was six.”

Sensing that she was trying to sound unaffected by something that happened over twenty years ago and knowing, from his own experience, that she probably wasn’t, Will pulled her close in his arms and kissed the top of her head. “If you don’t want to talk about it, I understand, but of you do, I’d be glad to listen.”

Liz was silent for a moment as she contemplated what to do. No one ever actually has ever asked about her mom before. Everyone from Liz’s hometown, and the greater Chicagoland area, already knew the story. The people in her life who should have been able to offer comfort or listen hadn’t been able to because they were part of the greater problem. The idea of having someone wholly unrelated, and who knew nothing of the event, listening to her view, for once, was a very inviting prospect. Could she trust the precious memory of her mother to Will? She was so used to being the sole keeper of Elise Gardiner’s memory that she was unsure.

 

*Chapter Twelve*

Will felt her breathe deeply in his arms and he was ready to offer her whatever she needed when Liz shuddered for a moment and began to speak, “My mom was the most amazing woman. They say that a child can’t really remember specific memories before the age of three, but I swear I remember her on my first birthday. I know it’s not imprinted from photos or what others have told me. I know.

Liz’s voice was choked with emotion and she was trying so hard to convince Will. He whispered in her ear, “I believe you Liz.” As soon as he spoke those words, he understood why she was so upset, “I’m sorry others don’t, Love.” He tenderly kissed the spot just behind her ear and whispered again, “So your first birthday…”

“She loved me. Unconditionally. My mom, my dad and I were the Three Musketeers. I was the center of my mom’s world and as my mom was the center of my dad’s, well, well made up our own little universe. They wanted kids and had tried for a really long time and when they’d about given up, ta-da! I showed up just under the radar. My mom was thirty-five when I was born and everything was fine until I was about one and she went for her physical and they found breast cancer. I remember that my grandparents were very angry. There was a theory that if mom hadn’t undergone the hormonal changes from pregnancy that she might not have developed the mastitis that developed into cancer. My own grandparents resented my existence and I remember my mom and dad kicking them out of our house on my first birthday.”

Will was trying to imagine such a thing and could not.

“So, my mom was loaded, I mean really stinking rich, and my grandparents were pissed that she had married my dad in the first place. The argument went something like ‘Elise, darling, you can do so much better than a cop. What about that Sears boy?’ My mom would always say corny things like ‘He arrested my heart.’ It’s dumb, I know, but it helps me to remember that my parents really loved each other. Anyways, my mom had money that was hers and my grandparents couldn’t really disown her or anything, so they, eventually, learned to deal with my dad. The house in Kenilworth was left to my mom by her grandparents and that itself made my grandparents angry. Do you know about Kenilworth?”

 Will admitted he never heard of it.

“You do know about Frank Lloyd Wright and the arts and crafts movement?”

He said he was a little familiar with both.

“So, Kenilworth is a ‘planned’ town. Joe Sears, of, well, Sears, bought the land and wanted to make an idyllic little village. I think I recall that the name comes from somewhere in England. I know that some of the streets are named out of Walter Scott’s book Kenilworth. So, George Mayer was a contemporary of Wright’s and designed half the village. Anyways, way back when, my mom’s family knew the Sears and my great, great-grandpa was an architect and an associate of Mayer’s. That’s how my mom ended up with the house in Kenilworth. It really was an ungodly small town to grow up in, full of the most unrepentant snobs ever. They never liked my dad. My dad had the audacity to not go to grad school and he actually, and this is the unforgiveable part, earned his living and wasn’t a trust-fund baby. I think the true reason my grandparents never liked me or my dad was that because my mom chose to marry him, she decided to take the house after all instead of letting her parents have it. It really was a nice house. I’m sorry, I’m rambling a bit.”

Will was sleepy and was doing his best to stay awake for her. It was obvious that she had a need to get this thing about her mother off her chest, and while he really wanted to support her, he was fighting hard to not give in and go to sleep. “You’re not rambling overmuch. I like hearing about you growing up. How did you get to be Lizard?”

“My mom became friends with Fran Lucas at some charity function and, through our moms, JJ and I became friends. We played a lot as kids and as Collins was always around because his dad and mine were best friends and worked together, we all grew up close. Fran, what a piece of work she is, was already on her second marriage at the time. Anyways, one summer we were at the creek that ran through the Club property and I found a salamander and wanted to keep it. I was always picking up garter snakes and such and, eventually, everyone started calling me Lizard. When I was in middle school I wanted to study herpetology but then I discovered mechanical engineering and then lizards and all their little reptile friends became secondary.”

Darcy found the notion of Liz getting muddy and looking for lizards as a small girl intriguing. “What did your parents think of your hobby?”

Liz laughed a bit. “My mom bought me a huge terrarium and feeder crickets. Dad wasn’t too keen and thought I should behave a bit more like a girl than the tomboy I was, well, am.”

“I think you’re rather amazing just as you are.” He squeezed her and kissed the top of his head again. “Especially like this.”

Feeling safe within the security of Will’s arms, she continued to share seemingly random snippets from her childhood until he had enough pieces that a picture began to form in his mind of a happy, normal childhood. Yes, her mom had breast cancer, but survived it despite her grandparent’s doom-and-gloom predictions. They discovered Liz’s diabetes when she was three and had eaten too much Halloween candy and had her sugar bottom out. They learned to live with and closely monitor the diabetes and chose to not let it be the defining characteristic of Liz’s life. She told Will about summer holidays on the shores of Lake Michigan, how her mother loved going on the rides at Six Flags and they all enjoyed playing along Lakeshore Drive and spending afternoons at the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. It was really a picturesque way to grow up.

When Liz was five and half, her parents told her she was going to have a brother or sister at Christmastime. For Liz’s sixth birthday, she received some newts for her terrarium and a sonogram picture of her baby brother who would be named Daniel. Liz loved first grade and was a great student. The school wanted to promote her into a higher grade so she would be more academically challenged, but her parents refused, stating that while Liz was advanced in many ways, she was still very much a normal six-year-old.

Generally, Liz’s sugar was maintained well while she was in school and it was a rare event that she had or any episodes or crashes during the school day. The day before the Thanksgiving break, Liz’s class had a ‘feast’ in class, complete with the first and second graders as the pilgrims and the third and fourth as the ‘Indians’. Liz usually was very smart about her food choices and so it was often forgotten that she was still a normal, sometimes impulsive, child. She ate too much of the wrong foods and as a consequence, had such a crash that the office was unsure what to do with the listless Liz. Liz begged not to have them call an ambulance and cried for her mom.

Liz’s mom, now some eight months pregnant, made her was over to the school as quick as she could. Just as she crossed the intersection immediately in front of the school, a drunk driver flew through his stop and careened into the driver’s side of the car and instantly killing Liz’s mom. Liz, shaky as she was, recognized the car as her mom’s from the office window and when she saw the accident, began to convulse.

The paramedics did all they could for Elise, but she was pronounced DOA and the first concern was now whether they could save the baby. Knowing that Liz should not ride to the hospital with her now-deceased mom, they had no choice but to send the girl alone in the rig while they transported her mom and her mom’s killer to the hospital in the same ambulance.

Her father arrived and gave her a quick glance before turning his attention to his wife and son. Devastated that he’d lost his wife, he begged and pleaded that he would give anything if only his son could live in her stead. If only love and prayers could have kept Daniel alive, perhaps Tom Bennet wouldn’t have been so grief-stricken that he sought comfort in the arms of his wife’s newly-divorced best friend.

Periodically as she spoke to Will, she would ask him a question just to make sure that he was still awake. “Have you ever heard that a young man, especially with children, often remarries within a year of becoming widowed?’

As tired as Will was, he was listening with rapt attention to the sad story of Liz’s childhood. “I think I have heard that before. Yes.”

Liz explained how Fran came in and took over everything. Her grandparents wanted nothing to do with Tom or Liz now that Elise was gone. Since Tom could barely breathe due to his grief, he welcomed any and all help offered to help take care of Liz. Fran was kind to Liz, at first. JJ and Liz were happy that they were spending so much time together. Fran pressed the idea that Liz needed a family again and boldly offered to become Liz’s mother which Tom agreed would be for the best. He thought that at least this way, his little girl would have some sisters to grow up with and a caregiver who’s heart hadn’t been smashed into pieces.

“Pop apologized once to me for marrying Fran. At JJ’s wedding he got a little drunk and became really morose. He went on and on about how brilliant Danny would have been and how gracefully my mom would have aged. He said he was so sorry for the indifference and neglect I’d been shown over the years. He explained that Fran was looking out for JJ and Mimi and as much as he loved his step-daughters, he should have known better. By the time he realized the mistake he’d made, CC was on the way.”

Squeezing her tightly, Will offered, “I am so sorry. That must have been really difficult for you. Was he always so distant, or did he eventually get better?”

“It took years, but yes, eventually he did improve. As I got older and was better able to care for and monitor myself, even Fran got better. She resents the hell out of my existence. I think when she married my dad that she had this grand idea that because we lived in Kenilworth that he was somehow loaded. She didn’t realize that it was all my mom’s and that it devolved to me.”

“That must have been a disappointing shock for her.”

“I think so. As I said, once I got older, she did get nicer. I think mostly because she was afraid I’d kick her to the curb. To be honest, I did give a lot of consideration to doing just that! What she seems to forget is that if she went, my sisters would go too. As much as LiLi and CC can be annoying, I do love them. After I graduated high school though, Pop suddenly decided to retire and head out to Arizona. He sold the house for me and he, Fran and the girls all live in Scarsdale.”

“Why did he sell the house? If it was part of your heritage, I would think that you should like to have it.”

“I would now, I suppose, but at the time I couldn’t stand the sight of the place. I had been so happy there with my mom and dad once, then Fran came and sucked all the joy out of it.”
Will said quietly, “I can understand that Liz. My father pretty much never came home again after my mother died. He stayed in London and would only come home when he had to. He said he couldn’t bear to have any reminders that my mom was gone and I guess for him our home was too full of memories.”

Liz felt that it was now her turn to offer some comfort. “Oh Will, I’m so sorry! Here I am blathering on and on about my loss, when here you are and you’ve lost your mother too. I’m so insensitive…I’m sorry.”

Before he realized it, words began to come out of his mouth like never before. “It’s alright. I was sixteen when my mom died. She had a lot of medical problems and seriously, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way- especially after what your grandparents said- but having my sister was the end for my mom. She had been told repeatedly that having another child would be highly dangerous for her and my father managed to talk her out of it for years… but he finally gave in to her. He always did. Once she passed, my dad withdrew from everyone and everything. My aunt and uncle came and stayed with us for a few years… once I turned eighteen my father signed over guardianship of my sister. He was never there and he wanted me to be able to take care of whatever she would need from a legal standpoint. Anyways, eventually work, with a little- alright a lot- of help from alcohol did him in. He’s been gone now for nearly ten years. My parents each, in their own way, taught me some valuable lessons. My mum taught me about complete love and sacrifice and my father showed me what not to become.”

Liz quickly added some things up in her head. She knew his sister was sixteen and that he was thirty-one. He had essentially raised this girl, mostly on his own, for nearly half of his life? It was truly an amazing accomplishment. He had also managed to go to school and work to support them both somehow all on his own. She imagined how difficult it must have been as a young man, and when he spoke about learning sacrifice, she knew instinctively that he must have experienced a lot of it himself.

Not wanting to disturb their position, she turned slightly and tenderly kissed where his cheek met his jaw line. “You poor man! I had no idea.”

As thanks in return, he kissed her temple once again. “No, of course not. How could you?”

“You’re right. It would be helpful though if people could walk around with signs floating over their heads which explained their damage, wouldn’t it? Mine could say ‘crazy science lady emotionally stunted because saw mom die and grew up like a red-headed stepchild’.”

That elicited a chuckle from Will. “Then if that’s the case, would mine declare ‘difficult bastard because father sloughed off his responsibilities on me when only a teenager’?”

Liz giggled, “Possibly.”

His forehead was now leaning against hers and they were face to face. “Definitely. And this conversation has now officially gone to the silly place.”

Liz fought to stifle a yawn as she didn’t want this time with Will to end. He noticed and had to fight off a yawn of his own. They had each been through so much and were so exhausted that Will knew the only sensible thing to do was make an attempt to get some sleep and see if in the morning he could persuade her to skip going to her sisters and just stay here with him instead.

“Liz Love, I think that, as tempting as certain other things might be… that it would be best… that we should just… it might be better if…”

Liz could tell this wasn’t easy for him. She had wanted him at least as much as he had seemed to want her, but it just didn’t feel appropriate now. Liz did recall seeing a notice on the back of the door that the Wander Inn had a late check-out of noon. With a wry grin, Liz finished his sentence for him. “…if we postpone certain other things until the morning?”

He smiled back at her grin. “Have I mentioned that I like very much the way you think Liz Gardiner?”

She liked that they had found their way back to light-hearted flirting again. Liz feigned a pout, “No, you have been terribly negligent Mr. Darcy.”

Will groaned and hoarsely replied, “Oh Liz, don’t look at me like that or else I can’t promise to remain a gentleman until morning! You can’t have any idea what it is that you do to me.”

Liz wickedly grinned and whispered huskily in his ear, “No Will, you can’t have any idea what it is that I will do to you.” She kissed him just under his ear and teased as she turned over so her back was towards him, “You have a goodnight now and pleasant dreams!”

Will sat straight up in the bed. “Oh no you don’t!”

Refusing to turn towards him for fear that she would burst out laughing, Liz asked innocently, “Oh no I don’t what, Will?”

He teasingly scolded her, “You don’t get to say things like that and then go to sleep without even so much as a kiss goodnight! Have some compassion woman!”

Liz sat up alongside Darcy and laughed. “So, if I submit to a kiss, would I be forgiven?”

Hardly believing that this was a real conversation, he shook his head. “Submit? No. I’d only kiss you if you were willing.”

“Oh, I assure you, I’m willing.” She climbed in his lap and put her arms around his neck and proceeded to thoroughly kiss him goodnight. When the seemingly never-ending kiss concluded, she asked, “Forgiven?”

Letting out a deep breath, Will answered, “Definitely.”

Will laid down first and reached his hand out to Liz. She leaned over and kissed that spot on his jaw that he seemed to particularly like. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and pulled her towards him. They spooned together and were amazed at how well they meshed together. There was no awkwardness, just a feeling of complete togetherness that neither had ever experienced before. Her head lay on his arm and his other arm came comfortably over her waist. They simply fit each other.

“Goodnight Liz.”

“Goodnight Will.”

They laid there together in silence, waiting for sleep to arrive. When it finally came, each dreamed of what the future might hold, and more importantly, who it might hold.

*Chapter Thirteen*

The alarm sounded off at 4am, just as Liz had set it to. She awoke amidst a momentary fit of panic from being in a strange location with a man’s arm draped across her. Liz smiled as the fog of sleep lifted and she recalled that the arm belonged to Will and she snuggled a little closer to him as she hit the snooze button. Checking her sugar could wait another five minutes, especially when it was so warm and cozy in the bed with Will.

Her movement had stirred him just enough that he held her a bit tighter and mumbled something that no one could possibly understand. Liz hugged his arm and sighed when his breath began to tickle her ear. This was nice. This was comfortable. This was something she had no idea could actually exist.

Will had been having the most delicious dream when he was gently awakened to find it had partly come true. He grinned at the happy thought that here, in his arms, was the most amazing woman he’d ever met. He felt somewhat rested but knew there was no way that it could possibly be time to get up just yet. As Liz snuggled deeper into his embrace his grin turned into a grimace.

Will shut his eyes tight and tried to think. Heaven help me! If she keeps wiggling against me like that, maybe it will be time to get up after all… No! Stop being such a bastard. It’s too early and I’m too tired and she’s asleep. Get a grip of yourself man…wait, not that either. Think, think, think… aha! Caroline! Remember the awfulness, remember Carrie, remember being stalked, remember Carrie, remember the restraining order, remember Carrie…. Ahh… that’s better! Ha! I wonder what Carrie would say if she knew that she was way more effective than a cold shower?

A soft voice whispered, “Will, are you awake?”

It took a moment for Will to register that Liz was speaking to him. “What?”

She laughed at how out of it he sounded. The man was still clearly exhausted. “Shh. Go back to sleep Will. I’m sorry I disturbed you.”

He held her tight and stroked up and down her arm. “No… no, Liz, you could never disturb me.”

She turned towards him and smiled. “That’s good to know. Sorry to have woken you, Will. I had set an alarm to check my sugar, but it was so nice here with you and I, well, I just didn’t want to get out of bed. And then you were chuckling, so I thought you were already up.”

Unaware that he had made a sound, he inquired, “I was chuckling?”

“Yes. You were definitely chuckling. I wonder what it was that you found so amusing.”

There was no way on earth he could confess that he needed to think of Caroline to keep from ravishing Liz! Instead, he lamely offered, “I’m afraid it must have been something I was dreaming about.”

Liz was disappointed. Her dreams had all featured the handsome man beside her and she had hoped that, just maybe, he had at least thought about her even just a little. To hide the hurt, she sat up and told Will to just go back to sleep and she’d try not to bother him anymore.

Will watched her get out of the bed and head to the bathroom in a huff. He realized he could only plead sleep deprivation when he realized how what he had said must have sounded. Sitting up, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and quickly made a decision.

Liz was gone for what seemed forever. Silently, she made her way back to the bed and climbed in, lying with her back towards Will. She tersely pulled the covers tightly around her and rather violently plumped her pillow. Once she seemed settled, he drew a deep breath and offered an apology.

 “Love, I’m sorry. I’m not certain what I’ve done that’s so clearly irritated you, but apparently it seems my bastard tendencies can still rear their ugly head.” He heard a small noise that might have been a stifled cry or giggle; whichever it was, he could not be certain. “Whatever it is, I didn’t mean it. This may sound absurd, especially as we’ve really only just met, but I wouldn’t purposefully hurt you for the world.”

For a long minute, there was no sound but the clatter of branches moving outside in the winter wind.

Liz turned back towards Will and propped herself up on her elbow. Will could see the evidence on her cheeks that a few tears had been shed and the knowledge that he’d made her cry pierced his heart. Darcy realized his earlier thoughts about being in too deep were correct but he no longer cared. Whatever it took, he would see her smile again. She had already experienced too much pain already for him to cause her anymore.

Her glistening eyes bored into his adoring ones as she questioned, “For the world?” He nodded yes. “So, if some big-wig philanthropist-type offered you a million dollars, you’d say no?” He again nodded yes.

Liz sat up and inquired still further, “And if you were offered a mansion and more money than you could spend in a lifetime, you’d still say no?” Biting his tongue to refrain from saying that he already had all that, Will simply smiled as he nodded yes a third time.

They were sitting close together now and he relaxed a little now that she seemed to relax a little again herself. With mischief in her voice, she asked, “And if someone offered you an island kingdom where you would rule supreme?”

Pulling her into his lap, he rested his forehead on hers and replied, “Perhaps….”

That answer was met with a smack to his chest and he grabbed her arm before she could do it again and laughed. “Don’t hurt yourself, dearest. Seriously, no, not even for an island kingdom full of beautiful savage women that dance and who call me king.”

Jealously, she said, “Beautiful, savage women?”

Drily deadpan was Darcy’s “Yes.”

“Oh, really?” she said with her hands on her hips.

“It seems that I’ve developed a thing for beautiful, savage women. Well, one savage woman in particular anyways.” As she was about to protest, he kissed her soundly; leaving her in no doubt who the savage woman might be.

When they needed to break for air, she protested, “Savage, am I?”

He kissed her again, “In my defense, I did call you beautiful. And you have hit me- several times! Granted, they didn’t really hurt because you hit like a girl….” This was, naturally, met with another playful whack of Will’s arm.

She was having a difficult time deciding whether to be amused, frustrated or offended. “You are the most…”

With a wry smile, he tried to help her along, “What? I am the most what exactly? Handsome? Funny?”

After letting out a groan, she exclaimed, “Yes! And infuriating! I cannot put my finger on what it is about you that I find so… so…”

Will realized there was a strong possibility that he would just anger her, but he could not help himself. With a full grin, he offered, “Intriguing? Interesting?”

“Irritating!” She shouted a little louder than one should in a hotel at four-something in the morning. In a much quieter voice she continued, “And irresistible.”

With that acknowledgment, Will Darcy beamed. With a shy hope, he asked, “Am I forgiven, Love?”

Begrudgingly, she nodded yes and then snuggled closer to him as they sat upright against the headboard, safely entwined in each other’s arms.

Leaning in so close that his breath tickled her ear, he whispered, “I have to be honest with you Liz, I actually have a confession to make.”

Beginning to panic that somehow he was not the man he seemed, Liz’s body became rigid as she prepared for the worst. “What is it Will?”

“I lied.”

She moved out of his arms and sat across from him so they were face to face. If there was one thing she had no tolerance for, it was dishonesty. “May I ask about what?”

“It was about you, I had been dreaming about you.”

“And that was funny?”

“What? Oh God, no, Liz! I was having the most fantastic dream when your alarm went off. I realized that I needed to calm myself down… or you would have felt, I mean realized, oh God, what I mean to say Liz is that I want you. More than any other woman I’ve ever known! And to help curb my reaction to you, I thought of someone else. I suppose that if I chuckled, as you say, it was because she would not appreciate knowing the very thought of her is more effectual to cool me off than a bucket of ice. Seriously Liz, when you said that I might have already been up, you cannot know just how up I was.”

Blushing at what he implied, she asked, “Really? Is that true?” He nodded. “Would you tell me about your dream?”

“Would you first tell me why you were so upset?”

Sighing, she began, “I guess I must offer a confession as well. It’s been a while, well okay, a really long time, since I’ve been intimate with anyone. My college boyfriend, well, let’s just say that it didn’t work out happily-ever-after. I guess after being with him, I didn’t really trust anyone enough and then life just got really busy. Then, and this is going to sound bizarre, after a while, I didn’t even really miss it. It’s been over six years now and you are honestly the first person that has awoken what I thought was gone.”

Will understood. He didn’t exactly know what he should say, but he completely understood how she felt. “I’m glad to hear it. Wait, that sounds bad, let me try again. I’m glad to hear it because I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one left out there who wants something more. For me, it’s been well over five years now.”

He could see the look of doubt on her face, so he continued and explained, “To be frank, the last time that I had sex, I need to be honest with you here; the last time was an absolute disaster. This crazy woman stalked me for months and one night, after I’d come home from a friend’s stag night, she was waiting for me in my bed. I don’t know how she got in, but there she was and unfortunately, I had more than my fair share to drink that night. I don’t even remember what happened but I swore nothing like that would ever happen again! My sister was so young then and, not that I was ever a real playboy-type or anything, I never brought a woman home where my sister was. I vowed then that I’d never lose control over myself again, with drink, with women or with anything.

Liz exclaimed, “That’s terrible!”

Certain that she thought his own behavior had been at fault; he began to get out of bed so he could finish the rest of the evening on the sofa.

Grabbing his t-shirt to keep him from getting up, she asked, “And where do you think you’re going?”

“To the sofa,” he pointed, “over there.”

“I don’t think so. I think that you, Sir, need to stay right here.”

“Are you sure?”

Thinking it over for a moment, she answered, “No, I’m not sure. About you staying here? Yes. About anything else? No.”

“If it helps, I have no idea either. What I would like, very much, is to spend more time, lots, with you. We could just not check out in the morning…”

“Your idea has merit, Will, but JJ will send out the National Guard if I don’t show up and at least say ‘Hi’. And won’t your friend be expecting you this afternoon?”

Relaxing once more under the warmth of the covers alongside Liz, he teased, “We were never that close…”

Laughing, Liz said, “Be serious! If you really don’t think your friend would mind, you are most welcome to come with me to JJ’s house. She and her husband love company and I would love a reprieve from their nefarious match-making! Oh, to see the look on Mr. Fancy-Pants should I walk in with you on my arm!”

Will pretended offense, “Oh, I see. You are only using me for my male beauty… thanks. At least I know that I’m tolerable enough to be your arm candy.”

That elicited a roaring laugh from Liz. “Alright, I confess, you are ridiculously handsome! But you are also a genuinely nice guy… and trust me, these days that seems to be a very rare thing!”

“Might I add that if we were to visit Chip, I would be exceedingly grateful to have you on my arm to help ward off the spinster-in-law that awaits me there?”

Liz giggled. “Oh my! We sound so shallow, don’t we? Your spinster will just have to suffer her disappointment that I saw you first.”

“And what of your Mr. Fancy-Pants?”

“Maybe we should introduce him to your spinster!” Liz snuggled in close and lightly drew her fingers up and down his side. “I do believe you were about to tell me of your dreams.”

“Hmmm. That feels nice Liz. I’ll still tell you about them if you’d like, but I’d much rather show you.”

In that instant, she knew. This was what she wanted; gentleness, honesty, tenderness, closeness, friendship and possibly even love with this man. It seemed so strange, but yet there it was.

Liz kissed him and said seductively, “Make you a deal Will: I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours!”

Will pulled her tight and replied, “Best deal ever!”

 *Chapter Fourteen*

After several minutes of passionate kisses, Will, gasping for air, asked, “You’re certain? Absolutely certain? It’s not too late to stop if you’re not sure!”

Liz looked at him with a fiery passion in her eyes as she declared, “The hell it isn’t too late! You just see what happens if you try to stop now Will Darcy!”

Thrilled to his soul that she wanted him as much as he wanted her, he replied, “I’d rather not.”

She drew him closer and said, “Too much talking!” Pulling his t-shirt over his head, she began to rake her fingers across the expanse of his back while attacking that spot below his jaw that elicited the most primal of moans from Will.

“Too many clothes!” Will growled as he quickly dispatched her beloved Schrodinger t-shirt. He just stared for a moment, relishing that this moment was real and there were no more false starts or impediments. She wanted, welcomed, his touch and was audibly pleased by his efforts to pay proper homage to her body.

“These,” Liz stated as she tugged off his boxers, being especially careful not to touch him just yet, “need to go.”

Being free from all restraint, he could wait no longer to have her naked skin against his and so he swiftly removed her shorts, tossing them unceremoniously from the bed, “Good riddance to those!”

The next few minutes were sheer bliss. Liz explored the planes of Will’s well-formed body while Will worshipped hers. Each was giddy with anticipation, and as excited as they were for what was to come, they were in no hurry. Long caresses, strokes and touches were shared. Liz’s flesh was seared with Will’s burning kisses. Will had been previously unaware he could exist in such a state without combusting.

Things were now to the point of no return when, somehow, a small amount of blood managed to return to Will’s brain long enough for him to form a question, “You are on the pill?”

Liz needed a moment to catch her breath before she could answer, “No! Did you not hear me earlier? It’s been six years! I, despite what this may seem like, don’t sleep around! Why on earth would I chemically alter my body for something that never happens? Do you have a condom?”

Frustrated, Darcy did a mental inventory of what he usually travelled with. “I might. I never remove anything from my toiletry kit and just keep adding things. There might be one in there.”

“Well?” Liz said when it seemed as if he’d never move. “Don’t just lie there! Go see if you can find it!”

Darcy began his search by dumping out the contents of his kit on the foot of the bed. Rifling through the items, he was having no luck. “Don’t just sit there Liz! Help me!”

Liz smiled at the sight of Will. He presented quite a picture naked, hunched over the bed, sorting through way too many travel deodorants. “Alright! I’ll help.”

Will paused for a moment to watch as she sat on her knees with her feet tucked underneath. As she leaned over the pile to help sort through his things, her breasts swayed back and forth putting Will under a hypnotic spell. “Oh, Will! Look! I found one!”

Her voice had broken the spell. “Thank God!” he said as he uttered a sigh of relief. Then, remembering something important, he said, “Wait! I’m afraid to ask- but what’s the expiry date on the package, Love?”

The wrapper was black and the date was hard to make out. Liz cringed when she did. “This expired four years ago!”

Will Darcy never whined. It would not be dignified to do so. The tone of his voice came very near it though as he asked, “Four years? Is that a suggestion, or would it really not work? Liz, you’re the scientist, what would be the consequences?”

Reading the package, she felt defeated. “If you weren’t such a responsible guy and had bought plain, old regular ones, we’d be fine. This, however, has spermicide in it and after a while it begins to break down the efficacy of the rubber. We’d be better off without it.” Will was about to interject, but she held up her hand to stop him. “That, Will, was a statement, not an invitation.”

Trying to lighten up the situation, she joked, “At least I know you didn’t have any plans for seducing this spinster-in-law of yours!”

He retorted, “And your nightwear would definitely have given Mr. Fancy-Pants some ideas…”

“Hey! I didn’t want to encourage any unwanted attention from any unwanted quarters. I promise you that I do happen to own some very fine lingerie!”

That is good to know. Lots of good mental imagery for later! That said, I must own that I prefer you like this, just as you are right now.”

Liz blushed at the compliment. “That deserves a reward. You! Come here right now!”

Will did just as he was bidden and she wrapped her arms around his neck and thanked him with an ardent kiss.

Groaning in frustration, he sat beside her on the bed and took her hand and pulled her into his arms. “Well, Love, what do you suggest we do now?”

Liz tenderly took his face in her hands, kissed him and said, “I suggest we, bright people we are, can figure out some alternative ways to get through this for now. I have no intention of letting you go just yet. What do you say?”

“I think you’re a brilliant woman! I promise that after breakfast, we’ll find something from somewhere, but for now, I agree with you. Besides,” Will said with a smirk, “your idea does go along with my dream…”

Pretending to be offended, Liz wagged her finger at him as she said sternly, “You, Sir, are a very naughty boy!”

 Pulling her back in his arms, he mumbled from the valley of her breasts, “Love, I have not even begun to be naughty!”

Pushing Will down on the bed, she straddled him and begun her own welcomed assault on his person as she stated, “Neither have I!”

An hour later saw them each most happily sated, fast asleep, in each other’s arms.

Just before ten o’clock, the bright sun finally managed to brighten up the room enough to wake them from their peaceful slumber. As Will began to stir, Liz complained that he needed to stay put where he was. He inquired if it was time to check her sugar and she grouchily admitted it was. He teased her that she was definitely not a morning person. She took great delight in reminding him why, on this morning, she was a little tired still. They continued to delay getting up as much as they could. Finally, nature would not be put off any longer and Will had to race to the bathroom. Liz watched him run with an admiring eye as she snuggled deeper into Will’s pillow.

Liz rolled on her back and picked up the pillow and buried her face in it. It smelled like Will and she loved it. She was musing on how this day might play out. They’d get ready, they’d eat some breakfast, they’d see if the replacement car from King was here yet and if it was, they’d hit the road once more. Liz smiled as she considered how adult this was. They had been through several disagreements and understandings but had managed to work through each one. It was obvious that neither was perfect, but as long as each understood that and could be tolerant of the other’s foibles, she thought that they might really stand a chance.

Will stopped for a moment at the doorway to just gaze at Liz. She was absolutely beautiful. He watched as she sniffed his pillow and his chest swelled with pride that she, even for such a short absence, missed him. She missed me! Me alone, and not my money, or my position, or what I can do for her… she missed me, the man and the man alone! Oh God, I could so love this woman… but what would an independent, smart woman like Liz want with a bastard like me? Could she possibly fit into my life? Wait, no, Liz should not have to ‘fit’ into anyone’s life… she deserves every happiness and as Andy always points out, I’m rather miserable most of the time. I wonder how long it actually takes to fall in love… stop it! You sound like a woman! Enjoy whatever this is for as long as this lasts and then go from there!

Quietly getting back into bed, he caught her unaware and she shrieked in delight as he peppered her neck and shoulders with feathery kisses. “What a way to greet the day!” she said with approval.

“I believe I’m in utter,” Will nibbled her left earlobe, “complete,” he then favored the right, “and total,” he kissed her nose, “agreement with you, Love.”

“As wonderful as this is, my dearest Will, I do believe that we won’t make it very far if we don’t get out of this bed soon.”

Will questioned, “And please tell me why exactly would I ever wish to leave this bed?”

With a wicked grin, she teasingly replied, “Because in order for us to get the full usage out of this, or, for that matter, any other bed, we need to go out first and do some very specific shopping.”

Liz achieved her goal of getting him to smile so his dimples once again appeared. “You, Love, are brilliant! What is the agenda?”

Sitting up, she let the sheets fall casually around her, knowing full well what she was doing to Will. “First, I am going to take a shower; then you should too. Unless, of course, you want to join me, we could even conserve water!”

“I somehow don’t think that if we go in there together that any water would be conserved at all! You, woman, have no compassion for my poor nerves! I had the most erotic thoughts about you last night when you were in the shower… if I were to actually join you in there, I promise you that I cannot be held accountable for my actions!”

“Very well then.  But it does seem to me that I’ve heard you say that before and yet you’ve been the perfect gentleman!”

“Only by the skin of my teeth, Love, only by the skin of my teeth!”

“Alright then, it seems that for my own protection I’ll shower alone. Okay, so after we’ve each cleaned up, I think we need to get a bite to eat, check on the car, and then head up to JJ’s. That is, if you’re still sure you don’t mind abandoning your friend.”

“Chip? No, not at all. He’ll understand. The whole point of my coming over here was to meet someone- and I have! Seriously, he’ll be more than okay with it. But can I ask a favor?”

Her eyes danced. “Yes, I think you can, have and probably will again.”

“You, woman, are trouble! Wonderful trouble, but trouble all the same. You know very well that is not what I meant! My phone is dead and it seems when I left London I somehow forgot the right adaptor for it. Would it be possible for me to ring Chip on your mobile?”

Getting out of bed, she stood before him in all her morning glory and said with a smile, “That’s no trouble at all. I turned mine off last night because it was about to die. If it doesn’t have any charge left on it, the charger for it is in my Pullman.” She turned towards the bathroom, looked over her shoulder and pouted, “Now I’m off to shower, all by myself. Alone.”

It took just a moment for Will to rethink his position on the shower. “Like hell!”

Before she knew it, he had swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bathroom. They then proceeded to waste a lot of water and Will was definitely not held accountable for any of his actions.

When they were refreshed, Will and Liz proceeded to prepare for the rest of the day. Liz checked her sugar and Will could not help but ask a few more questions about her diabetes. She explained that a faulty pancreas was the true culprit and then went on to describe how the different types of insulin work and how it really wasn’t as difficult as people made it out to be.

They were merrily finishing up packing their things when Will remembered he needed to call Chip.

Picking up her cell from the desk, Will attempted to turn it on, but it flashed a warning message and proceeded to power down. “Liz, I’ve got your mobile here, can you toss me the cord? I’ll plug it in so it’ll at least have a little life before we leave.”

Liz accurately tossed the charger to Darcy. “My, you have good aim!”

She laughed, “For the record, I may hit like a girl, but I do not throw like one!”

“I’ll have to remember that!” Will chuckled as he plugged the charger into the socket and looked for the port on the phone. He found it and turned the phone on. Just as he was about to dial Chip, the phone rang. Will attempted to hand the phone to Liz, but she, recognizing the ringtone, knew it was JJ and thought it would be hilarious to have Will answer the phone.

Shrugging his shoulders, he asked, “What on earth am I going to say to your sister?”

Shooing him to answer it, she encouraged him, “Be your usual, charming self Will!”

Rolling his eyes at her as he pressed the talk button, he replied, “You, Love, are the only one who finds me charming.”

She giggled, “That’s probably true, now talk to JJ!”

Just as Liz said that, he spoke into her handset, “Hello, you’ve reached Liz Gardiner’s phone, this is Will, how can I help you?”

The surprised voice on the other end of the line replied, “Good Lord! It is you! Just tell me Will, is my sister safe? Is her sugar alright? When are you and Beth getting here?”

Confused, all Will could say was, “Jane?”

“Yes Will? Is Bethy there? I need to speak with her.”

Liz watched Will’s face scrunch up in confusion and assumed he was making faces for her amusement.

Not understanding, he sought some clarification, “Jane? Jane Bingley? Why are you ringing Liz Gardiner’s mobile?”

Jane was growing frustrated. Charlie always swore that Fitz was smart. “Because Liz Gardiner is my sister Beth Bennet.”

Will, dumbfounded, handed Liz the phone and sat on the edge of the bed.

When Liz took the phone, she demanded that JJ tell her what had so upset him.

Liz dropped the phone in shock as Jane answered, “He just realized that you are the spinster-in-law and he’s Mr. Fancy-Pants.”

 

*Chapter Fifteen*

Liz just stood staring open-mouthed at Will who was sitting gaping similarly at her.

Jane’s voice could be heard shouting from the cell on the floor, “Beth! Elisabeth Bennet! Are you there? I really need to speak to you?”

Will and Liz just continued to stare, one at the other, in wonderment.

Bingley’s voice had joined Jane’s in an attempt to get their attention. “Fitz! Pick up the phone now damn it! I have something really important to tell you! Fitz, Beth, someone pick up the cotton-picking phone!”

Upon hearing his friend’s voice, Will did pick up the phone. He didn’t give either Bingley a chance to speak. “I think the two of you have done enough…we’ll speak with you later.”  Will clicked the phone off and, with more calm than he felt, plugged the phone back in to its charger.

“So, that was your sister, who is the wife of my best friend who is your brother-in-law.”

“How are you Fitz? Where does Fitz come from? Who names their kid Fitz? For that matter, why on earth do you call Charlie Chip? And where did you meet him anyways? I thought you went to Oxford.”

Pulling her arm so that she would sit beside him on the bed, he rubbed his temple to help stave off the headache he was sure was coming. They were each sitting cross-legged and opposite one another. After their earlier intimacy, the distance between them was keenly felt.

“I did attend Oxford. I did my graduate work there. I also attended Cambridge along with Chip which, incidentally, is where we met. Most of us had nicknames already from prep school, but Bingley didn’t and, so, he was christened by popular vote with the name of Chip. My nickname was already built in.”

Giving another little bow, much as he’d done the afternoon before, he said, “My full name is Fitzwilliam George Darcy. And you are?”

Not knowing how to answer that question without adding any more drama than there already was, she stammered out, “Well, I was born Elisabeth Anne Bennet, but legally, my name is Elisabeth Anne Gardiner. I hate and despise being called Beth. JJ and Charlie only get away with it because they are family and I love them. My family has issues with remembering who I am sometimes.”

A confused Will asked, “Then are you divorced or something? You did say that you weren’t married. I remember that very specifically.”

There was a tense nervousness in her voice unlike anything he’d heard before. “No, I am not. I was never married, not divorced, not widowed. My name is just different and I really like it if we could just leave it at that, thank you!”

He put up his hands and said, “Alright. Keep your secrets.”

Both were quiet while their thoughts raced.

Will began to grow flush as he remembered some of the things Liz had said. Trying to keep his equilibrium, his voice shook as he questioned her. “What do you have against me? I mean the idea of me? You didn’t even know me!”

Affronted by his barely concealed anger, her felt her own anger rise. “What do I have against you? What I knew was that I was supposed to meet this corporate fat-cat friend of Charlie’s that he’d gone to school with. A fat-cat named Fitz who I knew for some unknown reason didn’t like my step-sister. JJ has been at a loss over the last few years to figure out what it is that you have against her. I’ll admit I was pre-disposed to not like you based on these things, but what reason can you give for your own dislike of my dear, sweet Jane? You’d be hard-pressed to find a kinder, gentler soul anywhere in the world. And considering her mother, she’s a miracle! And what of me? You’ve made fun of me, though you didn’t know it was me, repeatedly. I’m twenty-seven years old and hardly qualify as a spinster for your information! And, despite my affinity for imaginary, theoretical ones, I own no cats!”

“Your sister! Yes, I suppose that Jane is everything you say she is. However my friend Chip is wasting his talents and abilities, and in the Midwest of America of all places! Had he not married her, he could have been so much more than what he’s become! If your sister truly loved him as much as he loves her, she’d want him to be the best he could be and not waste his life in the middle of this God-forsaken frozen wasteland.”

Unable to take much more of this, she stood up and began pacing at the foot of the bed. “You are such an unrepentant snob! Your friend is happy in this wasteland which you so easily dismiss. And I’d hardly call being one of the most-read fiction writers in the country unsuccessful! You don’t even know why they live in Wisconsin, do you?”

“No, but I’m sure you’ll inform me of all the most compelling reasons.”

Stinging from the sarcasm which she hadn’t expected, she told him what the chief reason was. “Sun Prairie is considered to be one of the top ten cities in America to raise a family in.”

Family?”

“Good God! You’re so dense! My sister is pregnant. I guess that you weren’t joking when you said that you and Chip weren’t that close! They’ve been trying for over three years and now Jane is due in late March. When they moved there, they were planning for their future and your friend, not my sister, chose the location. Jane would move to the ends of the earth and do whatever she had to for your friend to be happy. It’s lucky for them that their happiness only depends on themselves and not the opinions of certain arrogant bastards who have nothing to do with anything!”

Hurt that this was what she felt, he lashed back with, “If I’m such a rotten bastard, maybe you should have left me in Chicago!”

“Maybe I should have!”

“That would have been fine with me!”

At some point during her previous tirade, Will had also stood up. They were now standing toe to toe and each was seething at having been misled.

Will wasn’t even sure what he was angry about. She had been completely honest with him about a great deal of truly personal things that he realized that very few others even knew. She had spoken her mind with a clear conscience and had not actually been hurtful in her comments. It was distressing to realize that the one woman he had ever actually felt something for wasn’t impressed with him at all. What was even more distressing was how, even when she was absolutely furious with him, he just wanted to hold her and work through all this somehow.

Liz had been deceived, lied to and tricked enough in her lifetime and had no stomach for it now. She wondered how she could have been so wrong about him. Truly, her experiences with Will had made her think that the nasty bully he’d been in the rental office was an anomaly, but now she wondered if that was actually the norm. Was the whole nice-guy routine just a ruse to get her into bed? Liz knew she was not very worldly about such things, but she’d hoped her judgment would have been good enough to prevent her from making such a colossal mistake. If only he wouldn’t continue to look at her like he actually cared about her! What could he mean by it?

Feeling bereft because he was certain he’d lost her, he asked, “So what do we do now Elisabeth?”

Liz noted that Will’s voice had lost its bitterness. We. What a strange word. What do we do now?

“Well, we need to eat, we need to see if the car’s been dropped off and then we need to continue onward, I suppose.”

With hope, Will asked, “Together?”

Her first instinct was to become defensive and tear into him. Does he really think that I’d just leave him here in the middle of nowhere? Does he actually believe me capable of that? What a jerk!

Thankfully, her second instinct whispered to her that he was probably feeling as raw as she was and perhaps she should tread a little lighter than she was originally going to.

She sighed, “Of course.”

He appeared visibly relieved and she was glad she’d fought against her natural inclination.

“Do you think we might be able to sit down and have a civil conversation over brunch?”

Will nodded yes.

“Fine. Then we should head downstairs to the dining room and then we can check on the status of our car.” Glancing around the room, she looked at Will and asked, “Do you think you can manage to get out bags down to the lobby while I sweep the room one last time?”

“Certainly. I’ll meet you downstairs.” He had begun to set the bags out in the hallway when he thought of something.  “Hey Liz? Don’t forget your phone and charger. They’re by the desk.”

 Realizing she’d never have noticed them there, she was grateful and said, “Thanks Will.”

As he was shutting the door behind him as he left, he replied, “No problem, Love.”

That was when Elisabeth Anne, formerly-Bennet, now- Gardiner decided she needed to sit down for a moment and have a good, old-fashioned cry. 

After a few minutes of her own private pity-party, she splashed some cold water on her face and looked into the mirror to see what damage her crying jag had wrought. Her eyes were now red and a bit puffy, but not too noticeably. She feigned a smile but found that it actually hurt to do so. Faking emotions that weren’t true might be a game that some women play, but Liz did not. She had never been able to do it and she believed that people who could were akin to liars. That was when it hit her. Will was much the same way!

What good could have come from hiding the way that he felt on the matter of Jane and Charlie? His loyalty was to his friend and that was where it should be. She deplored dishonesty and had Will told her only what she wanted to hear, she would have despised him for it. Liz decided that she would apologize when she joined him downstairs.

Downstairs, Will had organized their bags on the luggage cart and pushed it to the side of the lobby. He inquired at the desk and was told their replacement car had indeed arrived and they were all set to check out whenever it was convenient for them. Darcy thanked the clerk and then asked which was the way to the dining room.

Even though there were no other guests about, Darcy chose the most remote table. He sat down and began to try to reconcile everything in his mind. He realized it would only be a matter of time, and not much at that, before Liz worked out the part about Pemberley, Wickham, Georgiana and the paparazzi. With his elbows on the table, he leaned forward to cradle his head and rubbed his temples. It seemed that while there was no urgent need to get to the chemist for recreational reasons, Will very much needed to go so he might purchase something for his burgeoning headache.

Will was very curious to know why she had changed her name. Whatever the cause, she seemed almost afraid to talk about it. At this moment, it was a very good thing that he was still several hours away from Bingley, for Will was pretty certain he’d wring his scrawny little friend’s neck for not giving them all of the pertinent information. Had he really been so out of touch with the man that he called his best friend that he had no idea of what was most important to Bingley? When the Bingleys had moved from New York to Wisconsin, Darcy had assumed it was all Jane’s idea. Thinking further upon it though, he realized that he never asked; he just chalked it up as another hollow reason to dislike Jane.

Why don’t I like Jane anyways? Liz is devoted to her, even though they’re not real sisters and Bingley goes on and on about his ‘angel’. Is there something I’m missing? I guess that’s the point. I’ve never really looked. When Chip turned down my offer to come to London to run IT development, so that he could stay here and continue to write and marry Jane. I suppose I never gave her a chance, did I? Hell, for that matter, I’ve still never read one of Chip’s books! I am the worst friend ever in the history of friendship.

 

*Chapter Sixteen*

Liz wasn’t feeling very well when she entered the dining room, and seeing Will’s hang-dog expression only made her feel worse.

He looks like I feel. How can this be? I guess it’s not as easy to be a rich and wealthy fat-cat after all. Wait! If he’s some big corporate guy, he’s the one that must own Pemberley… if he owns Pemberley, then that means that he’s the CEO with the teenaged sister who pervy George tried to seduce! Oh! That poor man! He spoke about the press and how they’d have eaten them alive! No wonder he was enjoying a little bit of anonymity. Oh God! He’s wealthy, handsome and successful… no wonder he didn’t correct my assumptions! The poor man even had a stalker break into his house… well, at least we have that in common. Poor, poor Will!

Quietly, she pulled up a chair and sat beside him at the table. “Hi.”

He hadn’t noticed her coming and was momentarily startled when she touched his arm to get his attention. She looked awful and, rotten as it made him feel to think it, he was glad. He reasoned that if she looked awful, perhaps she felt awful, and then he wouldn’t be alone in his misery.

Will noticed that she hadn’t removed her hand from his arm and he had to repress an urge to smile. “Hello Elisabeth.”  He wished he could think of something clever to say, something that would erase all the awkwardness between them but he knew not where to begin. The only thing he could think to say was, “The room’s all clear?”

Liz noted that his voice sounded strained. She replied, “Yes, everything is in order.”

 Will, still not knowing how to move forward or what he should apologize for first only answered, “Excellent.”

They sat silent for a moment until one of the staff came and took their drink orders and told them of the specialties of the house. They each ordered the traditional brunch, which caused the young waiter nod his approval before he merrily headed back to the kitchen, leaving them once again alone.

They sat staring at each other, unsure who should begin.

Finally, Will couldn’t stand the tension any longer and said, “Liz, before I forget, the replacement car is here.” 

“Really? That’s wonderful. If it’s alright with you, I propose that after we eat, we meet our fate and head out to face JJ and Bil.”

“See? This is where our trouble began. Why on earth do you refer to my friend as Bill?”

“What? Oh! Not Bill as in short for William, Bil as an acronym for brother-in-law. It started out as a way to irritate Fran and since Charlie has no love of her either, it’s a thing between us. As you can guess from my sister’s names, she has this thing for initial names. For the longest time, and don’t you laugh at me, she tried to get everyone to start calling me BeBe. I threw every fit I could and then some until she finally gave up the notion.”

Inwardly, Will was ecstatic. Liz seemed to, at least, momentarily set aside their argument and instead be as before the bombshell. He finally allowed himself a smile at her as he shook his head and said, “Love, with a name like Fitzwilliam, I have no right whatsoever to make fun of anyone for what they are called.”

She smiled in return and this time it was genuine and didn’t cause her soul to ache. “I’m sure your mother was an amazing woman and all, but I have to ask, where on earth did she come up with a name like Fitzwilliam anyways?”

With more ease, Will explained, “It’s a long by-gone family tradition, one that apparently wasn’t gone far enough, for the eldest Darcy son to carry the family name of his mother. It seems the last few generations before me were all lucky enough to have mums with unsuitable surnames.”

Liz giggled, “That sounds like something out of a Bronte novel or some such.”

Will was pleased to see the sparkle return to her eyes. He chuckled as well and continued his tale, “That’s not even the worst of it though. My mum’s family actually had changed their name to Williams several generations ago, thus dropping the loathsome Fitz portion. My mum and dad were very proud of their heritages though and named me Fitzwilliam I guess so that a part of that would live on.”

“Wow. That’s quite a story Will!”

She was looking right at him and for the first time since the phone call, there was no accusation, hurt or anger, but hope reflected in her eyes.

Not dropping her gaze, he spoke softly, “It is. Can I tell you another?”

As Liz was about to answer, the waiter arrived with their food. Once he assessed that he had taken care of all their needs and that they didn’t need anything else from him, he left with a promise to return momentarily to see how they were doing.

Liz and Will thanked the waiter for his enthusiasm, but assured them they’d be fine for at least several minutes and if he had other things to take care of, they wouldn’t mind his absence.

Liz wryly smiled. “As I was about to say before we were so politely interrupted, please Will, go on with your story. I’d like to hear anything that you want to say.”

“Thank you.” He was about to begin when he recalled she told him diabetics needed to check their glucose before meals. “Don’t you need to test or something before we eat?”

Pleased that he had taken such an interest in her health and well-being, she thanked him for his concern and confirmed that was true, but that she had already done that upstairs before she left the room.

He was glad to hear it. There was something about Liz which brought out his protective nature in a way that he’d never felt before. “And you’re alright?”

Choosing to be flattered rather than annoyed by his concern, she touched his hand to reassure him. “Yes, Will, I am fine. My sugar was 124 and that’s dandy for me. I’ve taken three units of a fast-acting insulin which will work to keep what I eat from making me wonky.” Seeing he was still worried, she sought to tease him, “I’m fine Will, I swear!  You people with good-working pancreases don’t know how easy you have it!”

 They began their meal and Will began his tale. He told her of growing up a really normal kid with parents who loved him whom he loved in return. His family hated London and though his dad went there for work quite often, the family stayed at their estate in Derbyshire. He truly had no concept of exactly how wealthy their family was until it was time to go to boarding school. There, he was treated differently because of who his family was and it was a feeling he did not much care for. He felt deferential treatment based on his family’s success and merits was absurd. The other boys who came from similar backgrounds seem to revel in the system but it made Will feel ill. That boys who were only nine should feel such a sense of entitlement just seemed wrong to him.

As he grew a little older, he did begin to understand that the class structure was so firmly ingrained in his schoolmates that there was little he could do to affect a change. Darcy never played the kinds of politics that made certain kids popular in school. This earned him many nicknames besides the dreaded Fitz, none of which were fit for a lady’s ears. He developed a reputation for being reticent and aloof but the reality was he was just a shy misfit. The boys from his own sphere were insufferably mean-spirited, shunning him when he wouldn’t play their cruel games and the middle-class boys were afraid to befriend him because their own lives were difficult enough without the added pressure of taking an outcast in their ranks.

He described how he threw himself into his studies and that while maths and science gave him some trouble, history and economics did not. His father had instilled a strong sense of family duty. Will knew that one day he’d be expected to take his father’s place as head of the company and that taking his education seriously would be the best way to prepare for the future.  Luckily, his school wasn’t far from his town and he was able to often go home on the weekends. It was during these times as an early teenager that his parents made certain he understood what was to be expected of him and together they made plans on how to achieve these goals.

Will then spoke about how his father would take him to London and show him around the office, boasting that this fine, young man was the future CEO. At home, his mum told how love was precious and how someday he would find someone and be as happy as she and his father were. Will had learned at school that happy marriages were rare at best, even more so in their circle, as evidenced by how many of his classmate’s parents were divorced. Having seen what a discordant family life could do to kids, he made a vow to his mum that he would only marry a truly exceptional woman that he would stay with forever.

Darcy laughed, “I’d actually forgotten about that conversation with mum until just now. Strange.”

Liz nodded and asked him to continue. She had done so much of the talking over the last day and was listening with rapt attention to him speak with tremendous feeling about the things that had help shape his life. He was truly an enigmatic man and she was taking each detail he gave her, using it to fill out the puzzle of Will Darcy.

Unsure, he asked, “Are you sure you want me to keep going Liz? It seems like I’ve been talking forever.”

With an enthusiasm that truly surprised Will, she quickly answered, “Please!”

Having always thought of himself as a rather poor storyteller, he could not help but question, “Why?”

Liz wanted to say the truth. She wanted to get to know him better. She wanted every detail about this man who excited her, frustrated her, made her laugh, shared her sorrows, and, most of all, confused her. She instead prevaricated, “Because I’m trying to make out your character.”

“And how are you getting on?”

“I’m not yet sure. I’ve heard several different accounts of you, and when I add in my own experiences…”

Will interrupted her before she could finish her sentence. “Several accounts? Another account aside from Bingley and your sister? If you mean that son-of-a…”

It was Liz’s turn to cut him off. “Yes, I do.” She held up her hand so he would let her finish speaking. “What pervy George said was obviously not entirely true. But even so, his is still another opinion of you, though seriously colored, that helps me understand how you tick. Charlie loves you like a brother and, as he is a good man of fair judgment, I can see that you are a man of value worth knowing. JJ tells me that you are a very smart man who is responsible, well-respected, charitable and of course fabulously wealthy and devastatingly handsome but for some reason I cannot understand doesn’t like her. Then there’s what I know.”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“No need, for I’ll tell you gladly. Before me sits a very kind a thoughtful man. He is a kind and loving brother who sacrificed much for his sister. A man who took on responsibilities which no teenager should ever need to. A man who is protective, caring, funny, and easy to be around when he chooses to be. Sometimes he can be a moody jerk, but then can’t we all?”

He had expected a litany of his faults, and was pleased for one to have his expectations disappointed. “So I’m not a hopeless case?”

Liz took a moment before giving her response. “No. Not completely anyways.”

Their server had been waiting for an opening to present them with the bill. “Unless there’s anything else I can get for you, here’s your bill. You can either cash out your bill here, or it can be added to your stay.”

Liz thanked the young man and asked to have it put on their account.

“I thank you both for dining with us today. And please, whenever you’re in the area, remember to Wander Inn.” The waiter blushed, “Sorry, Helen makes us say that.”

Liz said, “It’s cute!” which only made him blush more. He wished them well on their journey and made an excuse to head back to the kitchen.

Will watched her with keen interest. “Do you charm everyone like that?”

“Excuse me?”

Will motioned in the direction of the kitchen and explained. “The server. He was tripping all over himself for you. And Collins last night… he’s very protective of you. And even the porter yesterday in the rental office. You seem to have this affect on people.”

She quirked an eyebrow and stifled a laugh as she asked, “And what affect is that, exactly?”

Darcy crossed his arms. “I’m not sure, but whatever it is, I don’t think I like it.”

Liz placed both hands, palms down, on the table and leaned in to whisper, “Now that’s really cute!”

“What?”

She sat back and declared, “You’re jealous!”

“I am not.”

She smiled and shook her head at his protest.

She smiled even wider as he said, “Well, even if I was, it’s not like I have any right to be.”

Feeling bold, she asked, “Are you sure about that?”

“No. But I know I’d like to. Wait, that’s sounds wrong. What I’d like is the right to be jealous, not actually be jealous.”

“Let me ask you something.” He nodded to go ahead. “Are there any other major, shocking surprises? I mean, you’re not like fifth from the throne or some high-up peer or something? Other than your being in denial about snoring, because believe me, you do, is there anything else that’s vital that I ought to know about?”

“I can honestly say that there’s nothing lurking in the closet that I haven’t already told you about.”

“Alright then. I hereby grant you full rights to be as jealous as you like.”

He finally uncrossed his arms and reached out for her hand, which she gave him with a smile.

“Thank you Love, I’ll try not to abuse the privilege.”

Laughing, she teased, “See that you don’t! Now, in all seriousness, are we ready to hit the road?”

“Absolutely. Just let me get the gratuity please.” Reaching into his pocket, Darcy pulled out a twenty to leave on the table for a tip.

“I understand that you’re not actually a cubicle rat and that you have money to burn, but isn’t that a little bit excessive for a tip?”

Squeezing her hand, he motioned for her to lean in closer and when she did, he whispered, “The young chap has exceptional taste and I’m suddenly feeling rather magnanimous this morning.”

With a gleam in her eye, she said, “Very well then, if it makes you happy.”

“It does.”

Taking his arm, she stated, “Then all is well.”

Looking at the lovely Liz on his arm, he answered, “So it would seem.”

 

*Chapter Seventeen*

They settled their account at the front desk and picked up the keys for the new rental. Liz went to pull the car around while Darcy, eschewing help from the grateful server who also doubled as a bellhop, wheeled the luggage cart out the front door.

Darcy watched for Liz and she didn’t keep him waiting very long as she pulled up in a nicer sedan than the original car had been. She popped the trunk and Will began to put the bags in. They each laughed and when they looked at each other, they knew they’d each thought the same thing: this car had a much bigger backseat and trunk.

Liz saw that everything was under control and got back in the car which was now comfortably warmed up. As Darcy was about to shut the trunk, the strap on his coat sleeve became caught on the latch and in an attempt to disentangle himself, he wasn’t paying careful attention and banged the back of his head on the deck lid. Fortunately, his didn’t get cut, but the pain from his knock on the head kept him from seeing his good fortune just then. Uttering several oaths and even borrowing a ‘crud monkey’ or two, Will rubbed the back of his head as he slammed the trunk closed. His headache from earlier was returning with a vengeance.

 Playing with the tuner on the satellite radio, Liz was looking for an eighties station and was unaware of the trouble that Will was having. She squealed as she found Thomas Dolby’s song She Blinded Me With Science and began to sing along. Liz’s cheerful “Poetry in motion….” was interrupted by Will getting into the passenger seat.

“Love, we need to stop at the chemist please.”

“William!” She said with a hint of exasperation, “Really? I understand that this car could be a lot more accommodating, but we’ve only just begun to make peace and you’re already thinking about that?”

Not wishing for anymore understandings, he quickly clarified, “No Elisabeth, as much as I’d enjoy such thoughts, at present I’m in need of some Nurofen or Panadol. I forgot to pack any.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Those are for pain, right?” He nodded and rubbed the back of his head again. “What happened?”

“I had headache earlier and it was starting to abate, but then I crowned my head with the boot lid.”

Pulling his head towards her, she began to part through his curls to look for any signs of trauma. She found the spot and tenderly touched it. “You’re not bleeding, but this is really going to turn into quite a goose egg.  

He sat back upright in his seat, but Liz continued to play with his curls and teased him, “Poor Will. We’ll get to a chemist quick enough.”

She was working miracles by soothing the pain in his head. He was beginning to feel better and teased back, “So I’m injured and you’re making fun of the way I speak? Cruel, unfeeling woman!”

Liz brushed a wayward lock off his forehead. “See? You haven’t completely knocked out your sense of humor! And, at great risk of having your already large head expand even beyond your lump, I must tell you something: I adore the way you speak.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, he asked, “It’s the accent, isn’t it?”

“No, well, maybe a little. Seriously Will, it’s you, it’s what you say and how you choose to say it. That it all comes out in a mellifluous voice that makes me melt is a bonus.”

Will’s cheeks blushed at her revelation. Liz started the car and pulled onto the highway so they were heading west towards the freeway. It felt good to be moving forward again.

After a few minutes on the road, Will realized that he had never actually apologized for the rude things he’d said in the room. “Liz?”

“Yes Will?”

“Are we alright?”

“Yes Will, I think that we’re alright. I think that we were both taken by surprise. I understand why you let me think you were simply a work-a-day kind of man. The only problem I have is that you need to give my sister a chance.”

“I’m sorry for not correcting your assumptions. It’s a treat to be somewhere and not have people know who I am. And I will give Jane a chance. You’re right, she makes Chip happy and that’s really all that matters.”

“That’s all I ask. I wish I’d have met you before. I would have if you’d have come to the wedding. Why weren’t you there?”

“Georgiana had just broken her leg and was recovering from surgery. I was set to leave when I received the call from her riding master that she’d fallen and her leg broke in six places. She was only ten and so frightened by everything that I couldn’t possibly have left her to go to New York, even for Chip.”

Liz’s heart swelled with tenderness for Will. “I think that your mom would be very proud of the man you’ve become Will. Your sister must love you very much.”

“I hope so. I think she looks at me more like a father than a brother. It’s mostly just the two of us. She’s usually a good girl but last summer after I fired Wickham for siphoning off some funds of one of our clients into a personal account, he decided to take his revenge on me through Georgie. I was so busy cleaning up his mess that it never occurred to me that he would try to run away with my then fifteen-year-old-sister. She was devastated when she learned the truth of what he was. Poor girl. It was hard leaving her to come here, and I almost didn’t, but now I’m glad I let Chip coerce me in to it.”

“The man is a slime-ball and deserves to be held accountable for his actions. I understand why you can’t, really I do, but still… maybe when I get back to Boston.”

And there it is… I knew I was forgetting something! What are you doing man? She lives here, her life is here and you’re not. What about the New York office? No, what about Georgie! Damn, damn, bloody hell and bollocks! This, this is all for nothing. You are a bloody fool.

Hearing his sigh, she questioned, “What’s wrong Will? I promise I won’t mention Darcy even once.”

“It’s nothing. It’s my problem and just something that I need to deal with on my own.”

“If you’re sure…”

“I am.”

There wasn’t anything else to say. Something had upset him and it seemed to begin with something that she had said. Liz was determined to give him some space to sulk for the time being. It’s so funny to think that in such a short period of time I can begin to read his moods. Right now he wants to wallow in some childish petulance but soon enough he’ll be back to normal.

As they neared the freeway, businesses and shops began to dot the highway. Spying a Walgreen’s up ahead, Liz informed Will they were almost to the drugstore.

He corrected her. “Chemist.”

“Will, it’s a pharmacy, run by a pharmacist. Here a chemist is something else altogether.”

Stubbornly, he repeated, “Chemist.”

“Fine. Have it your way. Here we are at the chemist. Now are you looking for acetaminophen, ibuprofen or plain old aspirin?”

“Not aspirin, either of the others should suffice.”

In the pain reliever aisle, they each chose a bottle of acetaminophen for their travel kits and took a moment to just browse through the store. Will picked up a bag of black licorice and grabbed a Coke. Liz was on a quest of another kind. She found what she was looking for and called down an aisle to let Will know she was heading up to the register. Will, knowing they still had at least two hours to go, took advantage of this opportunity to stretch his long legs and dawdled a bit longer. Finally, he finished looking around and having paid for his purchase, got back in the car where Liz was waiting for him.

“So Will, aside from chemist and boot, are there any other British-isms you’d care to teach me?”

“What? Like a Proper English to Improper English dictionary?”

She laughed. “I suppose. I have an trip scheduled in January and not sounding like a completely clueless Yank might be to my advantage.”

Will was caught off guard by this tremendous news. “Are you coming to England?”

“Yes. In January. I thought that Charlie had already told you that. It was one of the reasons JJ & Bill, sorry, Chip, wanted me to meet you. They thought I could use a friend while I visit.”

Instantly, Will’s mood improved and Liz then realized what had set him off in the first place. Her heart leapt with what this might mean. For a moment, she considered telling him about the chance that she’d be relocating to England permanently, but she didn’t want to get ahead of herself or jinx the interview series. Was it possible that she meant as much to him as he did to her? Maybe instead of killing JJ for her interference, she’d reward her.

“Honestly, Chip gave me a litany of reasons why I should meet you but I tuned him out because I genuinely wasn’t interested. Now I can see that I’ve not only been a poor friend, but I’ve done a great disservice to myself as well. I was a fool, a right bloody idiot.”

“No more than I. I’ve been so focused on school and what might be next that I never take a moment to just be. Do you know what I mean?”

“I think I do. And yes, I can teach you all the British-isms, as you call them, you’d care to learn.”

She laughed and tried her best Cockney accent, “Jolly good, Guv.”

 Covering his ears in mock pain, he said with a wry smile, “We need to start by you promising to never, ever, say that again!”

“I think I can manage that.”

“I have no doubt in your abilities Elisabeth, no doubt at all.”

*Chapter Eighteen*

For the next forty miles, Darcy schooled Liz on what he felt were some of the more important things she ought to know about the subtle language differences found between the two countries. Both Darcy’s headache and the earlier tension faded away as the banter between the two flowed back and forth.

They were nearing the southern Milwaukee suburbs and Liz muttered something quietly and curious, Will asked what it was.

Liz really thought she’d been quiet enough not to be heard.  She blushed. “It’s embarrassing.”

He grinned. “Then that settles it, you have to tell me.”

She shook her head and tried to make excuses. “It’s really not very interesting…”

“I find that hard to believe.”

She sighed, “You’re not going to leave this alone, are you?”

Will chuckled, then narrowed his eyes and tried to look very serious. “Not a chance. Plus, I know where you’re ticklish and I’m not afraid to use that particular information.”

“Is that a threat or a promise?”

He laughed outright. “Which does it need to be?”

She giggled, “Both?” As he reached towards her, she yelped, “Will! No! I’m driving… I give up!” After taking a moment to make certain that Will wasn’t actually going to tickle her, she confessed, “I was doing the thing that comes before the Laverne and Shirley theme song. I hope you’re satisfied.”

Laverne and Shirley?”

“You don’t know Laverne and Shirley?” He shook his head no. “Do you know Happy Days?”

“Of course.”

“Okay. Well Happy Days actually came from a show called Love American Style. Happy Days ran for years and spun off Laverne and Shirley, who were these spunky single women living on their own in the early sixties while working as bottle cappers in a brewery. Milwaukee is famous for beer. Anyways, the show opens with Laverne and Shirley walking down the street and they say ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schilmazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!’ and then the theme starts. Whenever I drive by Milwaukee, I have to say it.”

Darcy searched his memory. “Did they parody that in Wayne’s World?”

“I am impressed! You must have an excellent memory.”

“Thanks. I shudder to think of what useful information I can’t recall because the details of Wayne and Garth’s adventures are stuck in my mind. I didn’t rebel much against my dad, but I watched much more ‘brain-wasting-nonsense’- his words- than he allowed. He wasn’t over-strict, but he wanted to make sure I stay focused on my responsibilities.”

Liz smiled at the mental image of Will sneaking around watching teenage comedies. “And I think that you’ve done that. What’s wrong with a little diversion? I imagine he had a fit about your affinity for Python?”

“Actually, I learned all about proper British comedy from my dad. We’d watch together and recite the lines. Mum kept saying we’d have her in Bedlam if we repeated the dead parrot sketch one more time.” Will seemed far away for a moment and then quietly said, “Those were really good days.”

It was clear that Will missed his parents every bit as much as she missed her mom. Whatever his dad became later, the fact was that, while they were all together, they were a very happy family. She reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. He didn’t release her hand. Instead, Will raised it to his lips and kissed it tenderly before he gave it back to her.

They rode a few more miles in reflective silence which Will broke by saying, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. But what are you thanking me for?”

“For not leaving me in Chicago, for taking a chance on me. I’m so grateful I didn’t miss this opportunity to spend this time here with you. Thank you, Elisabeth.”

“For that, you’re welcome Fitzwilliam. Since you’ve opened the floor for deep and meaningful conversation, I need to say thank you as well. It felt really good to talk about my mom last night. I don’t get to do that and it was very cathartic. There’s something about you… maybe it’s this situation, maybe it’s that Charlie and JJ intended to hook us up, maybe, I don’t know… whatever this is, I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”

“Even for an island where you were queen and were surrounded by handsome, savage men who dance?”

“Oh! So, serious time is over, is it? Okay. Well then the answer is no, I wouldn’t trade this for an island of handsome savage men.” Briefly, she took a glance at him and smiled. “It seems I like men who are actually civilized.”

He laughed. “I’m very glad to hear it. So, the dancing part held no sway for you?”

She answered, jokingly, “Nah, every savage can dance.”

“It seems I’ve heard that somewhere before.”

Liz nodded, “I heard it in a freshman anthropology class. We watched this film from the thirties that showed just everything that was wrong with colonialism and its ideas.”

Will agreed, “That’s most likely why it sounded familiar to me too.”

“Now a civilized man that can dance, that would be something to see.”

Will cracked a wry grin, “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”

“Hmm, are you saying that civilized men don’t dance, or that it’s a rare thing to see?”

“The truly civilized man, and you’ll find this to be true of almost any male of any species, will only dance with the proper inducement.”

Shaking her head, Liz spoke, “I know that I’ll probably regret asking, but pray tell, oh learned one, just what exactly would be the proper inducement?”

“Why to impress the savage female into mating of course! Isn’t it the same in all mammals?”

The next sound heard in the car was Will saying “Ow!” as Liz whacked his arm.

Will laughed so hard, he gave himself hiccups. “See? Savage I tell you!”

“I knew I’d regret asking! And you! You deserved that you know!”

“Oh yes! I know.” He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek in between hiccups. “I also know that your eyes somehow become even more beautiful when I tease you like that!”

She scrunched up her face in disbelief. “Really?”

“Undoubtedly.” Will reached over and touched her arm. “I don’t think I would be saying anything that a brilliant woman such as yourself hadn’t already been able to figure out when I say that I find you to be the most alluring and desirable woman I’ve ever met. I mean really Liz, it’s not rocket science!”

She had been melting with his tender words of affection until he spoke the last bit which caused her eyes to flash at him once again.

Excitedly pointing, Will cried, “And there it is! There’s that fire… oh Love, you can upbraid me with your eyes anytime you wish!”

Unable to keep a straight face, Liz giggled. “You are a very strange man Fitzwilliam Darcy. What on earth shall I do with you?”

Still hiccupping, he tried, unsuccessfully, to sound suggestive as he said, “I may have a few suggestions.”

Liz was now pealing with laughter. “Oh Will! I’m trying to drive safely and get us there in one piece and if you keep making me laugh like this, that will make my job so much more difficult!”

“I’m sorry Love, I just can’t help myself. I’ve not felt this good nor laughed this much in years.” He tenderly touched her shoulder and said, “Thank you.”

Liz beamed a smile at Will. “You’re welcome.”

It was quiet for a moment until Will hiccupped rather hard and winced from the discomfort. “Ow! Oh, they’ve gone from merely a nuisance to painful!”

Thinking of all the wives tale remedies for hiccups, she inquired, “Do you have any of your Coke left?”

“I’m afraid not. You finished it, remember?”

Liz blushed, “Oops, sorry! I never have real Coke and just wanted a taste! Okay, so nothing to drink… let me think for a moment.”

Will was watching her face in curious concentration while she drove. He was about to ask what she’d come up with when suddenly she just screamed bloody murder at the top of her lungs.

Startled, Will held his hand over his heart and asked, “Liz! Are you alright? What’s wrong? What can I do?”

Liz grinned, “Why I’ve cured…” Will hiccupped again. “…absolutely nothing. Sorry Will, I was trying to frighten them away.”

Will looked at her as if she were insane. “Bloody hell! You succeeded in frightening me alright, just not the bloody hiccups. Please Elisabeth, don’t ever frighten me again like that! I truly thought something was wrong with you and I just don’t know what I’d do…”

Liz reached out and touched his cheek. “Shh! I’m sorry Will; I promise I won’t do anything like that again.”

Liz pushed a button and scrolled through the menu on the GPS. Finding what she had sought, she taped the screen and her destination popped up. She pulled off on the very next exit where she parked them well off the road.

After another hiccup, Will asked, “What are we doing here Liz?”

Unbuckling her seatbelt, she reached over and unbuckled his before she answered him. “Well, we have no drinking fountain, no cup for you to drink from the wrong side of, or for that matter, anything to drink if we did! So, I was thinking about solutions for your hiccups and there’s one I’ve always heard that works, but have never tried myself. Would you care to try an experiment with me?”

Looking skeptical, he asked a question of his own. “You’re not going to smack my back or scream at me anymore, are you?”

Feeling bad for having scared him, she promised, “No! In fact, this may be the most pleasant experiment I’ve ever taken part in.”

Acquiescing, Will sighed, “Very well, carry on and do what you will.”

She clapped her hands together and excitedly explained, “Okay, so, you started laughing and had some sort of uncontrolled spasm which then caused your phrenic nerve to start spasming on its own. So, we need to come up with a way to reset, as it were, your phrenic nerve.”

Will was about to ask about her methodology when she crossed over the console and sat on his lap. “And just what are….”

“Just trust me, shut up and let me kiss you!”

And so he did. Liz kept him locked in a very long and quite passionate kiss. Will’s need to hiccup almost broke the kiss, but Liz kept him from pulling away. Will’s breathing went from shallow to deep, full-lung breaths. After a few more moments, the spasms had stopped but neither wanted to stop their present occupation. Finally, gasping for air, Liz pulled back just enough so she could rest her forehead against his. Grinning, she smugly boasted, “See? Gone!”

“You, Dr. Gardiner, hmm- that will have a nice sound to it I think, are a genius. Are we certain their gone? I’d hate to get back on the road only to find the job was only half done…”

She kissed his nose. “Mr. Darcy, if you find that you are in need of more remedy, all you need to do is ask!”

He gave a low growl that sent a tingly shiver up her spine. “More remedy please!”

Before she kissed him again, she teased, “I think I can fill that prescription for you.”

After several more minutes spent in this most agreeable manner, Will gave a deep sigh.

“What’s wrong Will?” Liz asked with genuine concern.

“I still stand by my earlier idea that we play truant.”

Trying to convince herself as much as him, she said, “We must go, especially now- don’t you think?”

“I know that you’re right. Must you always be right?”

Liz laughed. “No, I’ve been wrong before, and I’m sure I can guarantee that I will be again.”

“Very well then, I bow to your superior intellect. What are we going to say when we get there? I’m not sure I can deal with Chip’s grinning about what great matchmakers they are!”

Liz kissed Will once more before she maneuvered back into her seat. “JJ won’t be much better. And no, that doesn’t give you an excuse to not like her. She, like Charlie, just has this annoying need for everybody around them to be as happy as they are. Truthfully, this is one of the reasons I’d been dreading this weekend.”

Will puffed out his chest with pride. “And then you met me.”

“My, oh my! Well, aren’t you quite the proud peacock?” She giggled and found she had to agree. “Yes, I met you. And you met me and we have this amazing, I don’t know, chemistry? Whatever this is, I’m grateful and so very glad we met when we did.”

“Well then, I think we have many more things in common than we imagined. You see, I find myself exceedingly glad that there was a cock-up yesterday at the car hire office.”

Liz grinned and in a low, saucy voice she teased, “And don’t forget this morning!”

He gasped in surprise at her unexpected, but very welcome, tease. “You, Love, are so very naughty. I don’t think I could ever possibly forget this morning!”

For the next hour, as they drove towards Prairie Sun, they spoke about the uniqueness of their situation and each knew they were fortunate to recognize just how special this connection between them was. The fight of this morning was forgotten as neither one would let the other take the greater share of the blame. Instead, they dwelled on more pleasant topics. They tried to imagine how surprised the Bingleys would be that their match seemed to have worked out, despite the original unwillingness of the participants. The last seventy miles of their journey flew by in this pleasant manner.

Finally, Liz pulled onto the Bingley’s street. She began describing what she knew about the neighbors. “The Musgroves and their three home-schooled children live there. That house with the trillion toys in the yard belongs to the Morelands…he’s a minister and they are forever having families over and there are always so many kids playing there. The ugly, over-done house belongs to the Eliots who think they’re fabulous, please note the sarcasm, house belongs in Architectural Digest. And that house with the wrap-around-porch, down at the end of the cul-de-sac, is where Charlie and JJ live.”

 He corrected her. “Chip and Jane.”

As they pulled in front of the house, she sighed in mock frustration, “Oh you exasperating man! What am I going to do with you?”

He unbuckled as she parked, leaned over and kissed her cheek. With a twinkle in his eye, he proclaimed, “You love it and you know it! And, of course, you may feel free to punish me in any way that you wish.”

She was about to what would have undoubtedly been a very witty comeback when she paled upon noticing a golden-colored Ford Excursion with Arizona plates sitting in the driveway.

Liz muttered aloud. “Crud monkey.”

Will was about to ask what the problem was when he saw her face fall. He looked in the driveway and became red as he spied an orange Volvo C30 in the drive with New York plates.

Will grabbed her hand. “I’ll see your crud monkey and I’ll raise you a bloody hell.”

 

*Chapter Nineteen*

Liz turned to face Darcy and grabbed his hand. “William, I hereby apologize in advance for anything that may happen when we walk through those doors. My family is here.”

Squeezing Liz’s hand back, Will countered with, “Elisabeth, Caroline Bingley is here.”

Liz shrugged her shoulders. “So? Carrie’s nice enough… at least she’s never given me a hard time or anything.”

Will cocked his head as if he was about to disagree, but instead he just asked, “Really? She’s been nice? I’m speaking of Caroline Bingley, Chip’s sister and vain, narrow-minded, slightly psychotic woman.”

“Will, I’ve known Carrie for, well, about five years now. She’s had it tough. The guy that she was in love with used her pretty brutally and dumped her on her… wait! Oh my God! No…. No, no, no, no!”

As her voice grew frantic, Will’s voice grew tense. “I swear to you on my life Elisabeth, that she is as loony as they come!”

Still shaking her head as tears sprang to her eyes, she cried out, “I don’t understand! How?”

He reached out to soothe her and he was grateful that she let him pull her to him. She clinbed over the console again and sat with him as he gave a brief account of Caroline’s obsession with him.

“So, Chip being the brilliant guy he is, had a Marshall Scholarship and chose Cambridge. We met there and became friends. Over Easter break our first year, Caroline flew over for a visit and as Chip’s sister, was invited along with many of our friends to my family’s ancestral home in Derbyshire. I have no idea what happened in that girl’s mind- she was only sixteen at the time- but she snapped or something. I think she fell in love with my house. She started talking about how it would be when we got married and all the improvements she’d make and the parties she’d host. It was really strange. She flew home and I assumed that’d be the end of it. It wasn’t.”

“She began asking Chip for everything he knew about me and he became really apologetic about her behavior. Then the letters and phone calls started. I was trying to deal with Georgie-girl and do right by my sister and I was also stuck dealing with Carrie. Chip spoke to his parents about her obsession but once she said she was over it, what more could they do? Things quieted down for a while, until Jason and Diane decided to move to London. So now Chip’s family was in London which meant Carrie was only a very easy, short, tube ride away. She began to cut school and show up at our house or my classes. It was very uncomfortable. Anyways, things began to quiet down again after she graduated from school. She, luckily for me, wanted to go to design school in New York which was great because it got her the hell out of London! Chip and I eventually graduated and life went on. I began working on my graduate studies at Oxford while working at Pemberley and things were quiet.”

“Then one day, I go to get in my car and there’s a note on the windscreen with nothing on it but a lipstick print. I tossed the bit of rubbish and before I pulled away from the car-park, my mobile rings and its Carrie telling me that wasn’t very nice. I didn’t know what to do… Chip had tried over and over to get her to drop it and by that time, Jason and Diane were gone. I’d find notes on my car, in the elevator, in my office and just about everywhere else you can think of. If I threw them away, she’d ring me. I consulted with security at Pemberley and they worked to keep her as far away from me as they could. Because I was now considered one of London’s elite and eligible bachelors, the paparazzi were beginning to follow me too. It was a nightmare.”

“Anyways, a friend of mine got married about five years ago and on the stag night, I drank more than my usual wont, as is fairly normal for a stag night. So, the night ends, I go home and go to bed…alone. The trouble was, I didn’t stay that way. Sometime during the night, or maybe she’d been there all along, I still don’t know, she broke into my house and into my bed. When I awoke, or gained enough consciousness, she was atop of me and, I swear to you Liz, if you never believe another word I say, believe this, the second I realized what was happening, I called security and had her tossed out of my home. The only reason I didn’t pursue the matter with the police is because frankly I cannot think of anything that would be more mortifying than having to publically acknowledge that I was both too drunk for my own good and unwittingly assaulted by Caroline.”

“Now, I have no idea what sort of fanciful tale of a broken heart that she may have spun for you, but that is what actually happened. Should you doubt the veracity of what I’ve said, Chip can fill in the details that I’d rather not. I did confess to you before that it had been many years and the last time was a disaster… and now you know the whole of the story.”

Will could not bear to see the look of disappointment and hurt in her eyes and so chose to get out and pace beside the car. Disaster! Somehow she didn’t hate you before… but now? How can she not hate you when you still hate yourself for not being under better regulation? Damn!

Liz had quietly gotten out the car and watched as Will walked furiously muttering oaths to no one except himself. He was red in the face from both anger and the wind. As his breath rose and followed him as he paced, Liz thought he looked like bull getting ready to charge. She took a deep breath of frosty winter air thus steeling her resolve to help Will and herself get through this weekend.

Standing just behind him, Liz reached up and touched his shoulder. He spun around, fully expecting to see her derision and disdain. He did not. What he saw instead was compassion and sorrow. William Darcy didn’t know what to do next. The man who had done nothing spontaneous in his whole life, save the last twenty-four hours- for once had no ideas, no agenda and no clue what should come next. He was a lost man.

Liz saw how wretched he was and while Will had no idea what he ought to do, she did. She put her arms around him and held him as tightly as she could. Will’s arms instantly closed around her. They just stood there, with Liz offering comfort and Will accepting it, for several minutes.

Finally, Liz spoke, “That’s absolutely terrible! She’s deranged William! Carrie said that…well, never mind what she said. Oh Will, how are we ever going to go in there now?”

Feeling better that Liz wasn’t abandoning him; he kissed the top of her head. “I suggest we open the door, walk one foot in front of the other, and just take it one step at a time. It seems maybe we ought to have actually spoken with them this morning after all.”

“You asked if I was ever wrong… I was definitely wrong this afternoon! We should have stuck with your truancy idea. You obviously know that Carrie’s been successful with her line of accessories. Well, what you don’t know is that my sisters, who most likely came in that gas-guzzling behemoth right there, worship her.”

“Bollocks. Are you serious? Liz, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that. Maybe we could just…”

The front door opened up and Fran Bennet’s high-pitched, raspy voice croaked out, “Beth Bennet! Get your butt in this house before you freeze to death! You are the most thoughtless girl! That poor man has already had to put up with you for far too long… your dad can’t wait to see you, so get in here now!”

Will could feel Liz shudder in his arms and so now he offered her a reassuring squeeze. “It’s not too late, we could just go…”

Liz feigned a smile. “No Will. It’s time to face our fears. Remember, whatever doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”

How could he not love this woman? “Very well then. I can be brave if you can. Shall we make a pact? I’ll watch your back if you watch mine.”

How could she not love this man? “That sounds like a bargain. But are you sure? There’s only one Carrie but there are five Bennets.”

Not having the first clue what he was agreeing to, he replied confidently, “I think I can manage.”

 Shaking her head in amusement, Liz responded, “We’ll see.”

Hoping she’d say no, he asked, “Should we get the bags now?”

“I’d say yes, but there’s a good chance we many need to escape, so no.”

Darcy chuckled at her confession and offered his arm to her. “Shall we, Love?”

Liz took his arm and smiled. “Into the breach?”

“Well, good King Harry was outnumbered as well and everything worked out well for him….”

“I know that I should be offended that you’re comparing meeting my family with going to war, but I…”

Worried that he had offended her, again, he began to apologize, “Liz, I didn’t mean to offend you by-“

Liz halted their progress. “Stop! I think that we both are growing weary of misunderstanding each other. Before you interrupted me, I was about to say that I couldn’t agree more.”

With a great sigh of relief, Will said, “Last chance… the car is still warm and we can go back to the Wander Inn or anywhere else for that matter.”

Liz looked back at the car and then shook off her hesitation. “As tempting as that sounds, and believe me- it is very tempting, we both need to do this.”

“Very well then. Remember, Love, we’re in this together.”

She nodded and repeated, “Together.”

They held hands as they made their way to the front porch where Fran Bennet was waiting to berate her step-daughter for her tardiness.

“Well, well little Miss Beth… you think that the world revolves around you once more! You keep everyone waiting and your father was worried sick about you being caught out in the storm. If it wasn’t for Billy, who was always so very kind to you, even though you did nothing to deserve it, we’d have thought you dead on the side of the highway! Thank God that Billy had the good sense to call your sister, unlike you, ungrateful girl, and he let us know that you were safe and sound!”

Fran closed her mouth just long enough to take a breath and notice Will.

“I’m sorry for you that you had to endure Beth’s tedious company. She really gets the most nonsensical ideas! I am sure that you are anxious to be in the company of your friend and his wonderful sister! Carrie is such a dear, sweet girl and I am certain it must be ever so difficult for you to live so very far away from her. You must have the patience of a saint for tolerating Beth…she thinks that she’s so smart and that…”

Will could take no more. “Mrs. Bennet, it’s a pleasure to meet you at last. I’ve heard so much about you that I feel as though I already know you. As for patience, I think it is Miss Gardiner that has all of it, for it is she who has managed to put up somehow with my very tiresome company.”

Not  taking notice of the warning in Darcy’s voice, Fran carried on. “Oh Mr. Darcy, I am sure that it does you great credit that you would say such kind things about our Beth, but we all know what she is and I am certain that you exaggerate, for we have it on the very best authority that you are anything but tiresome.”

Darcy answered curtly, “Thank you for saying so, Mrs. Bennet, but I believe that Liz would be the best judge about what kind of travelling companion I make.”

As Liz directed Darcy around her stepmother, she said, “Fran, I think JJ and Charlie are expecting us now and I’d like to say hi to Pop, so you will excuse us, won’t you?”

Fran stammered, “Oh, yes, of course. Your sister should be in the kitchen, but I believe everyone else is in the family room.”

Once they were just inside the door, Will leaned in to whisper, “Elisabeth Gardiner, I am very grateful for the last twenty-four hours I have spent in your company. You are brilliant, caring, thoughtful, funny and you make me insane in all the best ways possible.” She looked up at him with glistening eyes and smiled. Will returned her smile and continued, “I just needed to let you know that…oh, and that your step-mum is barmy as hell.”

“I already knew that!” Liz giggled. Then, continuing their conspiratorial conference, she said, “Thank you Will. I really did need to hear that. I promise I’ll explain more to you later, when we can be alone.”

Alone?” Will looked up and down the hallway they were in. “Excepting these pictures with their prying eyes on the wall, if I’m not mistaken Liz, right now we’re alone.”

“And so we are.” Liz agreed.

Will’s breath was tickling her ear as he held her in his arms and said, “I think we can spend this fortuitous moment much better without talking.”

Liz had buried herself in the warmth and safety of his embrace. “Show me.”

Gently lifting her chin up towards him, he replied, “Gladly,” just before his lips met her own in a brief, but very tender, kiss.

Wishing to protect Liz from her mum and Carrie, he inquired, “Are you sure there’s not a back door that leads out of here?”

“There is, but we are not cowards Will. It’s time to face the lion’s den.”

Taking her hand in his once more, Will shook his head in agreement and repeated, “No, we are not cowards.”

“Let’s do this and get it over with.”

Nodding, he pushed the French doors to the room open and the collective gasping begun.

Everyone seemed to yell at once and nothing anyone person said could be distinguished from another.

After not quite a minute spent in this deafening manner, Liz stuck her index and middle fingers in her mouth and produced a show-stopping whistle. “Enough!” Liz shouted.

Looking at everyone’s faces, Liz could see it was very clear the silence would only be momentary at best.

“Okay. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. It’s great to see all of you! I’m a bit tired and my friend here, this is William Darcy, and he’s from London and he’s exhausted and still catching up on the time difference. So, I’ll make this quick.”

She whispered to Will, “Trust me; this will be fast and painless, like ripping off a band-aid. Just follow me, smile and shake hands.”

They first walked over to a man seated in a large, overstuffed, brown leather wingback chair. “Will Darcy, this is my father Tom Bennet. Pop, this is my friend, well, Charlie’s friend too, Will.”

Tom didn’t get up. He chose instead to remain seated. He had raised five girls and as a retired sheriff knew one or two things about intimidation.

Will had stuck his hand out for a handshake. Tom just looked at the offered hand, nodded and said, “Darcy. It’s nice to meet you.”

Feeling all the intended awkwardness, Will retracted his hand and shoved it in his pocket.

Daddy!” Liz hissed.  She leaned in on the pretext of giving her father a hug and whispered in his ear, “Please stop Daddy, you’re being rude!”

Tom chuckled at his daughter’s discomfort. Quietly he answered back, “This friend of yours must be mighty important. You haven’t begged me to do anything for you or called me ‘Daddy’ in years!”

Liz smiled. “He really is Pop. But please, don’t say anything! Things might get difficult.”

Tom laughed outright and drew the attention of the entire room. “Ha! Aren’t things always that way my little Elisa?”

Touched that he had called her Elisa once more, she replied with a grin, “Yes, yes they are.”

*Chapter Twenty*

Will, feeling more out of place than usual, scanned the room to first, see if Bingley was there and second, see if there actually was a way out of there. Disappointed by the absence of his friend, he was mollified by knowing that if things got desperate, he could grab Liz’s hand and jump out the picture window.

Liz led Will over to where a group of girls were too busy with their hand-held electronics to bother looking up.

“Will, this here is my half-sister LiLi. LiLi, this is Will.” Lindsey nodded, but, fortunately for Liz and Will, didn’t take her eyes off her iPod.

Will caught Liz’s eye and they both shrugged in exasperation.

“So, that was Lindsey and this here is Mimi.” This girl actually looked up from her netbook and smiled at Will.

“You’re Charlie’s friend, right?”

Happy to be acknowledged by someone, Will smiled back and replied, “Yes Mimi, I am.”

“Okay, cool.” was all that was said before Mimi went back to typing furiously on her computer.

CC didn’t wait for her introduction. She set her game system down and came bounding over to Liz.

“Beth! I’m so glad to see you! I’ve missed you and you never come out to Arizona to see us anymore!”

“CC…you know that school’s really insane right now but that wild horses couldn’t stop me from coming for your graduation this spring.”

“I know that Bethy!” Turning to Will, CC blushed as she asked, “Do I get to meet your friend too?”

Liz smiled. At least one sister could be polite when she wished to be. “Of course, CC! Catherine Colleen Bennet, this is William Darcy. William Darcy, this is Catherine ‘CC’ Bennet.”

William smiled. Maybe things wouldn’t be entirely terrible after all. “Pleased to make you acquaintance CC.”

“Oh, please, Will, Beth, please just call me Cathy or Catherine. CC sounds so babyish and I am determined to be more grown up now.”

“Sure Catherine. I promise I’ll try to never call you CC again, but you really, and I mean this, need to stop calling me Beth. That was your mom’s idea and it really, well, we won’t go there right now. Just know that I really, truly hate it.”

Will listened and thought he was beginning to get a better idea of the Beth/Liz/Bennet/Gardiner picture. He would continue to gather all more information as unobtrusively as he could.

“Sure Liz! I can do that. I know that you said next week we’d talk and you’d help me with some college decisions, but since Daddy decided to surprise JJ and just show up, isn’t he funny? I thought I’d bring all the brochures with me. Do you think that you can spend a few minutes with me tonight and look at them? I asked Mimi for help, but she says she doesn’t have time for any high school problems anymore. Why is she always such a bitch?”

Trying not to eavesdrop, but having nowhere else to go, Will had been listening to Catherine’s speech.

“Catherine, Mimi’s always been a bitch. She’s been nothing been self-absorbed since I’ve known her and you need to remember that I’ve known her all her life. Ignore Mimi and her rudeness and just be the best that you can be. Never mind about her approval or your Mom or even Pop’s for that matter. They are never impressed with anything, so don’t bother. The only thing that I want for you is for you to be happy.”

Catherine hugged Liz and squeezed her so tight that her shoulder made an audible popping sound.

“Oh Liz! I’m so sorry, did I hurt you?”

Laughing, Liz shook her head. “No Catherine, I’m fine.” 

Catherine beamed. “Thank God!” Then she turned and gave Will a tight hug too. “I can’t forget you either Will! Thanks so much for getting her here safely! I don’t know what I’d do without my big sister.”

Will looked from Catherine to Liz and back again. While some features were similar, like the shape of their cheekbones and the set of their chins, the sisters couldn’t be more dissimilar if they tried. Catherine stood at least 5’8”, where Liz didn’t seem like she was much over 5” at all. For the ten-year younger but much larger sister to call Liz big was something that just struck Will as funny and he began to chuckle.

Liz caught his eye and knew what it was that he’d found so funny. “I know, I know. I’m the tiniest big sister around.”

Will put both hands up in surrender. “I said not one thing!”

Catherine laughed. “You two are cute together!”

There was silence as neither Will nor Liz knew what, if anything, should be said. “Wait… you two are together, right?”

Liz sent Will a questioning look and after a moment to consider the options, he nodded and then spoke directly to Catherine, “Yes, about that… is there somewhere else where we could speak?”

“Um, yeah. We could go in Charlie’s office. He said he’d be back in like a half-hour. No one ever goes in there.”

Catherine led them out the doors and down another hallway until they reached a room at the other end of the house. The room was definitely a man’s domain. The deep cherry wainscoting met halfway up the wall with a deep, sueded hunter-green paint. One the wall hung groups of pictures, one was maps, another was the covers of Bingley’s book covers, but the last one caught Will’s attention.

In an 8×10 frame, there was a picture of Jane and Charles on their wedding day. Surrounding this were smaller frames filled with family and friends taken over the years. There was a picture of Jane, looking resplendent in her wedding gown posed arm in arm with Liz who looked absolutely radiant in her maid of honor dress. There was another with a younger Tom Bennet, a pregnant Fran, a small blonde who must have been Jane when she was young, a baby in a stroller and a small brunette with large, sparkly eyes that must have been Liz when she was little.

Catherine noted Will staring at the photos. Pointing to Fran, she laughed and said, “See? That’s me! Not quite there but annoying Mom all the same. That was our house in Kenilworth. I love looking at these pictures.” Looking at Will, Catherine remembered something and called Liz over. “Liz, you need to come and see this!”

Liz had been thumbing through Charlie’s idea notebook. She set it aside and joined the others over by the display.

Grinning and feeling rather pleased with herself, she said, “Look here Liz! Does anything seem familiar to you?”

Looking from picture to picture, and not finding anything she hadn’t seen a million times before, Liz became frustrated. “No. What?”

Will was quiet and kept studying the pictorial history of the Bennets while Catherine encouraged Liz, “Look again!”

 Finally, Liz saw what Catherine had found so amusing. There was a picture with two young men wearing Hawaiian shirts, giant sunglasses, ridiculous hats, holding beer bottles high up in the air and wearing huge smiles. Liz had seen this picture many times and well knew the shorter man was Charlie. Charlie had even said that picture was his favorite moment in college. It had been taken on holiday at Brighton with his best friend Fitz. As she studied the picture closely, she could see traces of the man she knew now. He was, from what she could see, handsome even then and seeing how happy he appeared then made her smile.

Liz called him. “Will?”

 Will stood behind her and asked, “Yes?”

Pointing to the photo, she inquired, “How old were you in this picture?”

He scratched his stubble-covered chin while he thought it over. “I can’t believe he has this up here. I think I was maybe nineteen or so. Was I really that young? I look like such a young whelp there and look at Chip!”

“Charlie looks twelve! The two of you look like you’re having the time of your lives.”

Will blushed a bit and said with a hint of embarrassment, “We were.”

“Oh! I see…” said an equally embarrassed Liz.

Catherine didn’t get it for a minute and felt sorely left out until she finally understood. “Ah! I get it! You guys were partying hard on spring break! Oh and Charlie was so underage!”

Liz defended her brother-in-law while trying not to give her sister any ideas. “Sweetie, I think the legal age in England is nineteen, so he was well within his rights.”

Will corrected her, “Uh, actually the age is eighteen. I think it’s nineteen in Canada. Catherine, Liz is right. We were following the letter of the law and despite what this picture would have you believe, neither of us actually got to the level of drunkenness generally associated with spring break.”

Catherine laughed at him. “Oh please. You and Charlie got drunk and probably picked up girls but now that you’re old, you need to play the responsible adult and make sure no one else has any of the same fun that you’ve already had. How hypocritical!”

Liz laughed as Darcy harrumphed, “I am not old!”

The girls just looked at each other and smiled as Will’s grumpy protest made him appear very much like an old curmudgeon instead of the young, handsome man he was.

Will, feeling very much ganged upon since entering the house, defensively crossed his arms and turned away on the pretext of examining other pictures on the wall.

Liz put her arm around Will and whispered, “I’m sorry Will. You are definitely not old, but if you could have seen yourself just then, you’d have found it every bit as humorous as we did. Besides, CC is just pissed because my Pop’s very strict on the whole spring break thing and has denied her request to go to Cancun for her senior trip. It’s not you, she’d have been jealous of anyone that got to have fun when she didn’t…”

He leaned his head on her shoulder. “I suppose you’re right. I can be a bit petulant sometimes. Thank you for putting up with this old man’s company Liz.”

She kissed his cheek. “Anytime, Grandpa.”

“You, woman, do not play fair! I knew I was right, you are perfectly savage.”

Catherine had grown bored waiting for these two to get to whatever point it was that they had brought her in here for and cleared her throat to draw their attention. Liz and Will, now holding hands, stepped apart and faced her together. 

“Okay you guys, what was so important that you needed to discuss it with me in private?”

Liz looked to Will. Will nodded back to Liz who began, “Alright. Well, obviously you know Fran and I don’t get along. Your mom tolerates me at best and Pop and I haven’t been on the best of terms lately. Mimi is, as you so eloquently pointed out earlier, a bitch and well, if Mimi is a bitch, I shudder to think what you might call LiLi.” Catherine nodded that this was all true and Liz continued. “So, JJ invited me here this weekend and Charlie invited Will. Only we met differently than they had planned but it doesn’t matter because it all worked out. Except now, well, all of you are here and are really screwing things up.”

Catherine sneered, “Thanks Liz, love you too. And LiLi’s a bi-otch, which is like so much worse than just a bitch.”

Will hid his smile behind his hand as Liz sighed at her sister’s explanation. “Okay, very well. Bi-otch. Good to know.  So, Charlie’s sister is here too and from what I understand, she wasn’t supposed to be here either.”

“No she wasn’t! It was a total surprise! JJ had facebooked how excited she was that you were coming and how Charlie’s friend would be here too. Then Carrie IM’d me to ask if I knew who the friend was that was coming and I said no. Then Pop was over my shoulder and saw you would be here and he wanted to surprise both you and JJ. So I IM’d Carrie back to tell her we’d be here and she IM’d me back to say that she’d bring me a new Bing-Bling if I kept quiet about everything and let it be her surprise. Isn’t that so cool of Carrie? You should see the new bag! She said it’s debuting at a show in Milan and I’m the first non-industry person who will have it! It’s so cute! She said orange this season is the new black.”

Trying to keep Catherine focused and on track wasn’t easy. Liz asked, “So has Carrie said anything about our arrival?”

 “Well, she said she brought some stuff with her because she wants to give you a makeover. She said that just because you are a scientist that doesn’t give you an excuse to not be a woman. Carrie brought some awesome stuff for you Liz! Oh, and she was pretty excited about meeting her fiancé. How great will that be? She’s been waiting for this guy for years and he’s finally going to propose this weekend! I’m so excited for her! Carrie’s been waiting for this guy forever but it was kinda weird when Charlie reminded her not to get her hopes up.”

Liz checked on Will and it was just as she had thought. His hands were rubbing his temples in a vain attempt to stop his headache from returning.

She reached in her pocket and handed Will a bottle of Tylenol before she turned back to her sister. “Catherine, we have some things we need to tell you. Carrie is, well, she’s, she’s just not right. In the head I mean. The fiancé she keeps waiting for is Will.”

“Then you’re a rotten asshole Will! You’ve strung poor Carrie around for years! You never call when you say you will, you never see her, you ditch her every chance you get and you treat her very badly! It’s a wonder she’d even want you anymore!”

Will motioned to Liz that he had this. “Yes it is a wonder. Listen Catherine, I am an arse. Liz can tell you that I’m the first person to admit that I can be a right arse sometimes. However, I have never and will never, under any circumstances, be in a relationship- of any kind- with Caroline Bingley. Her brother is my best friend in the world. Do you really think he’d still be so if I had treated his sister as you have said? He wouldn’t. Carrie has some sort of problem. Bingley has somehow been able to keep it quiet over the years because if it got out it could hurt her business and the family. “

Catherine’s anger at Will had dissipated and she wanted to hear the rest of the story. When Will saw she was beginning to believe him, he continued, “She’s broken into my house before, she leaves me notes everywhere, she, well, stalks me. I have my own issues in London and have never wanted to publicly humiliate her or her brother by bringing charges against her. I have threatened her about having a restraining order written against her in London, and that seems to have worked for now. But whenever I am in New York it all starts up again.”

Liz held Will’s hand to remind him she was there and would support him. Seeing her hand in his, he smiled. Having Elisabeth on his side made him feel he could take on a hundred Caroline Bingleys.

Catherine was still processing what she’d been told. Her hero was a nut job? “Is she dangerous? Are there going to be boiled bunnies or something?”

Liz hadn’t considered that. Carrie had always liked her before. If she was with Will, would that push her over the edge? “Crud monkey! I hadn’t thought of that either. Is she dangerous Will?”

“I honestly don’t know. I do know that she’s very jealous and doesn’t like when I speak with other women. Bloody hell, what are we going to do?”

Seeing the obvious care and affection between Will and Liz touched Catherine’s heart. Free couture handbags or not, her sister’s happiness came first.  

Catherine had a plan. “So you guys only met yesterday, right? You act like you’ve known each other your whole lives.” Will shrugged and Liz nodded. “Oh my God, you guys are seriously adorable! As hard as it would be, I think it totally would be like for the best if we kept you guys apart as much as possible when Carrie’s around. We don’t need to push her buttons and make her go all Psycho or Jason on us.”

Liz laughed. “Been watching a lot slasher flicks lately? Do they still give you nightmares?”

“Not really. They’re kinda dumb really. Anyways, I think that if Carrie’s really all stalker-monster and stuff, that you guys need to keep your distance. That means stop holding hands and being all googly-eyed at each other. I take it back, you’re not adorable, you’re sickening. It’s almost as bad as JJ and Charlie being all moony over the baby. Those two will actually make you throw up! So, what do you think?”

Will said to Liz, “As much as I hate subterfuge, I think your sister’s idea has merit. If Carrie doesn’t perceive that anything exists between us, then there’d be nothing for her to become enraged over.”

“I don’t like it. I see the necessity of it, but I don’t like it.” Turning her attention to Catherine, Liz spoke, “Thanks CC. I mean Catherine. You are growing up and I am very proud of you. I love you, little sister.”

“I love you too Liz!”

Will mentally chimed in, God help me, I love you too Liz! Addressing Catherine, he questioned, “So you’ll help us keep Carrie busy and away from us as much as possible? And we have your silence on this?”

Catherine nodded but Liz wanted perfect clarification on the matter and asked, “So you know that means not saying a word to LiLi, Mimi, mom or dad, right? Will and I are going to speak to Charlie and JJ, but we need your help too. Now, I know that I don’t have any high end fashion accessories to bribe you with, but I believe we could work something out.”

“Buy me a caramel cashew sundae and fries from Culver’s before you leave and we’ll call it even.”

Will shook Catherine’s hand and answered before Liz could. “Done!”

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

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