I hope everyone is enjoying the start of their summer! Sorry it’s been too long. There are a million reasons why this is late but I am trying  to be positive and so I beg your pardon for my tardiness and thank you that you still care! That said, here we go:

*Chapter Sixty-Five*

Instantly, every single thing Liz had said about her grandparents came flooding back to Will. They had blamed Liz for both Elise Bennet’s death and for the loss of their grandson Daniel. They had been unkind to Liz as far back as she could remember. They had dropped all contact with her and caused his Elisabeth unimaginable pain when she was already suffering terribly from such a tragic loss. Anger began to seethe within Will, drawing both Max and Henry’s attention.

Will internally counted to ten. He then turned to Max, saying, “We cannot do business here. I’m not going to… bloody hell!” He shot a look of contempt at Alton and stated, “This is done and I’m leaving.” He then turned to Henry and gave the order, “Call Wentworth, have him ready the plane. I expect to be gone within the hour.”

Alton Gardiner reached out and caught Will’s arm in an attempt to prevent him from leaving. Will rounded on the man and commanded, “You will unhand me at once and you will not come near, or ever even try to contact my family again.”

Realizing that if he enraged the man any further, he would never be able to have a civil conversation with him, Alton Gardiner released Will’s arm and said, “Elisabeth is part of my family, too.”

Not wishing to have this conversation at all, but definitely not in front of Max or Henry, Will clenched his jaw and said, “Reynolds, have Wentworth on stand-by. Max, we’ll speak later. It seems I have some family business to tend to.”

Max, due to their long-standing relationship, rarely addressed Will formally but did so now as a sign of respect. “Yes, Mr. Darcy. I’m available at your leisure. Come, Henry, fine dining awaits us.”

Will dismissed them with a barely perceptible nod, as he did not wish to take his eyes off yet another man who had so badly hurt the woman he loved.

The conference room was now emptied but for the two of them. Alton moved to shut the door to give them privacy for what was sure to be, at the very least, an awkward conversation.

Will waited for the elder man to begin, but he did not. Several silent passed by until Will could stand it no longer and gave in. “You wished to say something?”

Alton nodded and said, “I do,” followed by more silence.

Will was growing furious. “Then say it and have done!”

Alton returned Will’s intense glare. “Fine. I love my granddaughter very much.”

Obviously,” scoffed Will with no small amount of derision. “That would, of course, explain why she hasn’t seen you in over twenty years and why you blamed Liz- who was only a mere child for God’s sake! for her mum’s death.”

Alton was surprised. “She shared that with you?”

Will was insulted. “We are to be married, Mr. Gardiner, we are hardly strangers.” Though, really, we’ve only been together two weeks. I suppose that it would be difficult for others to understand…

“I guess that’s true. My Elisa has grown into a beautiful, young woman and her grandmother and I are very proud of all that she’s become, despite Thomas and that woman’s influence.”

Alton had finally said something that didn’t make Will immediately want to punch him. As much as Will did not like the total lack of concern her maternal relatives had shown, he liked the paternal care she’d been under even less.

“That is very true.” Will was interested to hear what the man had to say about his long absence. “If you knew things were so terrible, why did you not intervene? Surely there must have been something that could have been done.”

“We were devastated by the loss of our daughter, and the boy, too. We handled things badly, I can admit that now.” He leaned against the conference table to take some of the weight off his feet. “At Thanksgiving, you, I believe, met Tom Bennet?” When Will nodded, he continued, “A more unreasonable, bull-headed jackass of a man there never was. I have no idea what my Elise ever saw in him. Tom turned her against us. He did not want us around and convinced her that we hated him. While that was eventually true, we honestly gave him a fair shake when Elise swore she would have no other but him.”

“Elisabeth said that you disapproved of his blue-collar upbringing and his profession.”

“So we did. There’s no crime in wanting the best for your children. You will, no doubt, feel the same someday. It’s true, we did wish for Elise to marry better than Tom, but, above all else, we just wanted our darling girl to be happy and she claimed the only one in the world who would make her so was Thomas Bennet.”

“The money… the house in Kenilworth… Liz said you and your wife were jealous that those things were left to her mother and not you.”

“Mr. Darcy, you seem to me to be an intelligent man, and the research I’ve done backs that up as well. My granddaughter was but six years old when her mother died.” Alton made his appeal, “How many details do you remember from when you were six?”

“Admittedly, I do not remember much from that age, but sir, something you likely do not realize is that Elisabeth is most definitely not like most people. She has excellent recall and her attention to detail is mind-boggling. She has recounted to me conversations where she overheard blame being placed on her for your daughter’s cancer. Can you honestly tell me that never happened?”

“Impossible. She can’t remember that. Elisa couldn’t have been more than two at the time.”

“Sir, it’s one of her earliest memories. I’m sorry for your…” Will could hardly get the word out, “pain, but I cannot and will not allow anyone, no matter how well-intentioned, to cause any more pain or discomfort to my wife. Elisabeth may be your granddaughter, but you gave up all claims when you left her helpless and friendless in her father’s care. She is my family now, not yours. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but we are through here. I can’t do business with you… either personal or professional. Good day, sir.” Will took up his briefcase and made for the door.”

“Please, Mr. Darcy. I understand that this must be difficult for you, that this puts you in an uncomfortable position but I would beg you, sir, to hear me out and determine for yourself whether my requests are unreasonable or not.”

Will found his feet had stopped moving against his will. “I will listen to all you have to say, but not now and not here. Are you free later this evening?”

“I am at our disposal, Mr. Darcy.”

“Fine.” Will fished a card out of his coat pocket and handed it to Alton. “Ring me after eight.”

“Eight it is then,” Alton agreed as he studied Will’s business card. “Oh, I have one more thing, Mr. Darcy.”

“Yes?”

“If you wouldn’t mind, I don’t want Elisa to know that we’ve met. At least not yet.”

“Why? I owe you nothing and she owes you even less. I will not keep secrets from her. She deserves nothing less than the truth, now and always.”

“So she does. Look, I’m not asking you do anything unscrupulous; just delay informing her about my being here. Really, what can be gained from unduly upsetting her? Let us work this out between us, and then you may tell Elisa anything you wish.”

“You have my word that I will not say anything to Liz for now, but I promise you nothing further than that.” Will then opened the door, nodded and said, “Until later,” and left Alton Gardiner behind as fast as his feet would allow.

Liz had felt so horrible that the moment she had come home from school she took a long, hot shower and put on some clothes that would make her feel more comfortable. She had just begun to dig into her delivery order of Fondness of Two from Hsin Hsin when Will called.

Liz perked up and answered brightly, “Hello, Sweetheart, how was your day?”

“You beat me; for I was about to ask you the same. How was school today, Love?”

“School was fine. Just finishing things up for the semester and all the usual stuff that goes with it. It’s so strange that I won’t be there next semester. I’m going to start packing things up in my office tomorrow. But, that’s enough about me… don’t think I didn’t notice that you tried to avoid my question. Now, how was your day? Did you ride in on your white steed, make your deal and save the poor impoverished company from the invading hordes?”

Despite the uneasiness he felt, Will had to laugh at the picture she painted of him. “It is so very good to hear your voice, Elisabeth. It was a long and rather tedious day. Things have become more complicated than we had planned for and I’m no longer certain that we are going to be able to help this company as we thought.”

“Oh, no!” Liz’s sympathy was gladly accepted by Will. “Well, Sweetheart, if anyone can help, I know it’s you. You are such a good man, Will, and I am proud of you for even trying when it sounds like a lot of other companies would just wait until this one fails and then pick them apart like vultures.”

“That’s exactly what will happen…” Will thought aloud, “and I need to put a halt to that. I just don’t see how I can right now.”

Liz confidently assured him, “Smart man that you are, you’ll figure out a way. I know it!”

Her love and faith in him both bolstered his confidence and made him acutely aware of his own failings. “I don’t deserve you. You are much too good to me.”

“Nonsense! I love you and there is to be no more talk of who does or doesn’t deserve who. We just both happen to be exceptionally fortunate people for having found each other. Seriously, Will, we’ve both dwelt much too much on the past and all of the misery found there. I like thinking about the future, our future, much better, don’t you?”

“I love you, Liz. I like my future much better now that I know that you have a place in it. Are you feeling better than last night, Love? I had Henry install that thing on my computer today. I must admit that only the thought of seeing you kept me sane today.”

“I am feeling better, thanks. Though I still feel like a truck-”

Will interrupted with, “Lorry.”

Truck,” Liz insisted, “hit me, my headache is gone.”

They exchanged user ID’s and within a few minutes they were chatting face-to-face.

When Will recognized what Liz was wearing, he briefly wondered if video-chat was such a good idea after all. “Is that my shirt?”

Liz glanced down and picked a bit of rice off Will’s Oxford t-shirt. “Yeah. I was missing you and when I changed after my shower, I saw this and just had to wear it. Is that okay?”

He laughed. “Oh, it’s definitely more than okay. Love, you can wear my shirts anytime you wish. In fact, the image of your wearing my shirt is just the thing I’m going to need to get me through these negotiations.”

“Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to be a distraction.”

“Love, you are the very best sort of distraction. Besides, everything I do now, I do with you in mind. Liz, my dearest, darling Elisabeth, you are my future.” Thoughts of his confrontation with her grandfather intruded and he did his best to brush them aside. “And so I must plan well and make only the very best decisions.”

“And I have no doubt that you will! Now, did you eat dinner yet? Because I don’t want to be rude, but I’ve put off eating my dinner for too long and it smells so good that I can’t wait anymore.”

Will waved his hands and said, “Go on, please don’t wait for me. What are you having there? Is that Chinese?”

“Yes, and I love this place! This is a dish that they have that’s got this garlicky-beef coupled with this amazing white-wine, white-meat chicken and it is unbelievably delicious.”

“That does sound tasty. I’ll figure out something after I speak with one of the Axiom shareholders at eight.”

Liz set her chopsticks down. “Sweetheart, it’s nearly eight now. Will you be up later? Did you want to talk after your meeting?”

“I’d like nothing better. Finish up and enjoy your meal. I’ll call you as soon as I’m able, Love.”

“Then I’ll just say ‘see you later’ instead of ‘good-bye’.”

He smiled and said, “I love you, Liz.”

She returned his smile with one of her own. Liz bless him a kiss before saying, “I love you too, Will,” and then disconnected.

Will changed his clothes while he waited for Alton Gardiner to contact him. He knew Liz was right, he needed to eat and a dinner meeting would serve his purposes well enough. When Will reached behind to put his wallet into the back pocket of his jeans, he discovered something was already there. He pulled out a stiff 3”x5” note-card that had been folded in half. There was a heart drawn on it, making Will’s own heart jump. She sent me a love-note! Happy with this discovery, Will unfolded the card and read:

Will- Know that I miss you more than I can say and love you more than I thought possible. –Liz

 As his finger traced over the note, which written on gridded card-stock with thick, permanent marker, Will thought it was the sweetest gift he’d ever received. He was about to tear through the rest of his belongings to see if Liz had included any more notes when his mobile rang. “Bollocks,” he cursed as he reached for his accursed phone. Taking a breath to calm himself rather than tear the man’s head off, he answered curtly, “Darcy.”

Alton spoke carefully, “Mr. Darcy, this is Alton Gardiner. Are you free to speak now, sir, or did you care to meet in person?”

“As my original dinner plans were scotched by our impromptu meeting, shall we meet in a restaurant somewhere close by? I am not too terribly familiar with the area, and will defer to your preference.”

“Certainly, Mr. Darcy. How about Ulysses’? It’s my understanding that it’s a decent replica of an English pub. Would that suit?”

“Sounds fine to me,” he lied. Will would rather be a million other places besides dining with Liz’s grandfather. “Eight-thirty then?”

“Will you have trouble finding it?”

“I’m sure my service will manage.” Will just wanted this to be over. “Until then.”

“Excellent, then. Good-bye.”

Will, feeling no compulsion to be agreeable to this man, switched off his phone without saying good-bye. He rang his car service and a car was downstairs within minutes. It was less than a mile to Ulysses’, but the weather outside was miserable and Will knew Liz would kill him if he took any risks with his health. As he watched the city lights go by, he wondered if Liz would ever stop being so overly protective when it came to his safety. Will hoped not. It was nice to have someone who cared enough, who loved him enough to worry about him. It was one of the many things he loved about Elisabeth.

Ulysses’ was unusually crowded for a Wednesday night. There was a new band playing that had packed the place by word-of-mouth. When Will finally was able to push through the crowd of Wall Street hipsters, he was anxious to find Alton and have this business quickly done so he could get back to Liz.

One of the advantages to being tall is the ability to see over heads in a crowd. It was only a moment before Will was able to locate Alton. Elisabeth’s grandfather had not taken particularly good care of his health or appearance over the years, making it easy for Will to spot the heavy-set man who was wiping his sweat-drenched brow with his handkerchief. Will was able to arrive at Alton’s side, undetected and giving him the added pleasure of startling the man who had completely upended all his plans for New York.

“Mr. Darcy,” said Alton, who was clutching his chest. “I didn’t see you come in.”

Will decided to be blunt, for he had no desire to play games with this man. He ignored Alton’s comment and, instead of offering a greeting, got right to the point. “How did you know that Elisabeth and I are together?”

Alton, recovered from being thrown off-balance, took a sip of his Scotch and said, “My man told me.”

“Your man?” This enraged Will. “You have Elisabeth spied on?”

Alton corrected him. “Looked after.”

“I don’t give a bloody damn about semantics! The material point is that you are spying on your granddaughter!”

“No, Elisa is free to live her life as she sees fit. We just keep tabs on her through our people.”

“Stalk her with your spies, more like. You are a rotten son-of-a-bitch, truly. How exactly are you any better than Bennet? I’m curious because I am having a difficult time seeing any difference right now.”

“He does things for selfish reasons… I do things for Elisa’s benefit.”

Will was glad they were in a crowded public place, or else he might have given in to his desire to punch Alton. “That’s the same rationale he uses.”

Alton had no idea how to get around Will’s anger. “You are just going to have to trust me on this. I have Elisa’s best interests at heart and my people tell me you’re a good guy. All I want is for my Elisa to be happy. Can you promise me that you can make her happy?”

“No. I cannot promise that she’ll always be happy, but I can promise that I’ll always do my very best to make her so.” Will had so many questions; he hardly knew where to begin. “You say you have her best interests at heart. If that’s the case, why do you watch her from a distance? Why haven’t you contacted her before now? Or ever tried to be a part of her life? I’m having a hard time with your claim that you care about her when all the evidence says otherwise.”

Alton spent the next hour explaining how he and his wife had made many mistakes that they greatly regretted. He told of the fights with his daughter when she had informed them she was going to marry Bennet and how they tried to keep in touch, but all contact with them had been one-sided. Bennet’s hold on their daughter was something that no one seemed to understand. Their brilliant, clever daughter had married a controlling man and since he felt inferior in both birth and circumstance to his in-laws, he persuaded his wife to have little to do with them. When Elisabeth was born, they were granted very little access to their one and only grandchild. When she was stricken with cancer, they tried to support Elise, but were not welcomed. Will could see that Alton was pained by these memories, but as he had yet to hear why they remained distant from Liz even now, he would not yet offer any sympathy.

Will continued to listen as he was told the story of how they discovered Liz’s diabetes and how the new lifestyle adjustment had been difficult for Bennet to deal with. It was then that he wanted and pressed his wife for more children. He wanted a son, a son that wouldn’t be imperfect like Elisabeth. Bennet’s resentments began to grow against everyone. He was angry that his sickly daughter was more intelligent than him, he was furious that his wife was unable to easily conceive a son and he was livid that his in-laws tried to offer support, thus undermining his position as head of the household.

Elise Bennet did eventually conceive again, after several years of fertility treatments and against the better judgments of her oncologists. Elise was thrilled to do this for her husband. She was giving him the son he so wanted and Elisabeth would get a little brother to spoil. Plans were made for Daniel and all was well until the accident that changed everything. Tom Bennet cut off all contact with the Gardiners and quickly remarried, stating that it was all in Elisabeth’s best interests. Anytime they Gardiners tried to make contact, they were rebuffed. When Alton filed a petition for visitation, Bennet had some lawyers he knew that owed him favors take care of it. After a few years, they stopped trying to make direct contact and kept watch through private investigators. As Elisabeth grew up, they watched from a distance, but the important thing was they still watched. Alton did admit that his network was not always fool-proof. They hadn’t found out about Johnny Thorpe’s stalking until it was too late. Alton appeared to be a very distraught man when he spoke about how terrifying it must have been for his dear Elisa to be terrorized like that.

Will was sick of listening to this. “Then why the hell didn’t you do something about it?”

“We were scared. We had made such a mess of things before… Instead we tried to make the way easier for Elisa.”

“Easier how?”

Another forty-five minutes later, Will understood. He didn’t like it, but he understood.

 ~home~

~previous chapter~

~next chapter~

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

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