*Chapter Sixty-Six*

Liz was exhausted. She’d been reviewing her notes, making certain she recalled each main point of he listed topics for her upcoming oral defense. She closed the files and vowed not to revisit them until after the exam. Her advisor, she hoped and prayed, was right. After being in school for the last twenty-one years, she either knew the material, or she didn’t. One night of cramming was not going to make a significant difference.

Hoping to kill time until Will called; she’d cleaned the kitchen, made a grocery list, done the dishes and baked muffins for the morning. She yawned and checked the time. It was almost eleven. Will should have been back long before now. She almost called him, but thought better of it. If he was still with the people from Axiom, he wouldn’t appreciate the interruption. Liz flipped through the channels on TV but found nothing to hold her interest. Liz, normally happy with solitude, was finding it completely unsatisfactory now. She missed Will, plain and simple, and would not be happy until he was back with her, where he belonged. With a groan, she threw the remote on the coffee table and said aloud, “Fitzwilliam Darcy, what have you done to me?”

I can be patient. Really, I know I can be. Desperate for distraction, Liz sat at the counter and thumbed through the catalogues that had come in the mail. As Liz flipped through an address label catalogue, she toyed with the idea of ordering some new labels. Dr. Elizabeth Gardiner. Dr. E. Gardiner. She turned the page to find the wedding themed labels and smiled. Mr. and Mrs. William Darcy. Or would that be Mr. and Dr. Darcy? Wait, I think it would be Mr. William and Dr. Elizabeth… that’s too long though. She sighed in frustration. Someone that knew better would help them figure it out later. The next catalogues all promised on their covers to be full of the perfect holiday presents for everyone on her list. She had found her distraction. “Christmas shopping! I can do some Christmas shopping!” Tossing the ads aside, she headed back to her office to shop online.

Liz wasn’t sure what to get Will, or his sister for that matter. She wanted their gifts to be really special, and would wait until something either caught her eye or she learned of something they wanted when she reached London. While ideas for Will would come later, she had lots of ideas for everyone else. She logged in to her Amazon account and within a half-hour, she had completed her shopping for Mimi and LiLi. Mimi was getting a new external hard drive and some other new computer toys and LiLi was getting those expensive new headphones that she had been begging for, along with some new iPod accessories. Though she had already delivered presents for the Bingleys, she couldn’t resist ordering something for JJ. Liz ordered her step-sister a mother’s pendant, and since Charlie had accidentally informed her they were having a daughter, she also ordered some decidedly feminine baby items. As for her father and his wife, she felt an obligation to get them something and purchased them an Omaha steak package, deciding that was enough.

A glance at the bottom corner of her screen informed her it was now well-past midnight. She was growing anxious- part of her was highly annoyed while another was worried. The feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach refused to be ignored. Where the hell is Will? Something’s happened, I know it! She was though waiting. I don’t care if he’s still meeting with the Axiom people, it’s really late and I just need to know he’s alright. He’ll understand, and if he doesn’t, then too bad! Just as she picked up her phone to call Will, it rang, startling her enough to cause her to drop it on the floor. Thankfully, since the carpet was soft and well-padded, no harm was done. She answered it on the third ring, just before it went to voicemail.

“Will! Thank God! Where are you?”

Will, at Alton’s request, had followed Liz’s grandfather back to the Gardiner’s Central Park West apartment to verify the truth of that man’s claims. From what he could tell, it seemed that Alton had been truthful in his claims and Will now had to decide what, if anything, he would do with the information. For the moment, all he was certain of was his headache and that Liz was going to kill him. “I’m just now leaving the Axiom people, Liz. Things were much more complicated that we realized. I’m so sorry, Love. I hadn’t realized it was so late.”

Liz cried, “It’s almost twelve-thirty in the morning!” She couldn’t stop herself from scolding him. “How did you not realize it was this late? Does that new watch of yours not work?”

That last question caused him to chuckle, even though it went against his better judgment.

His humor did nothing for hers, except to incite her anger. “Don’t you laugh at me, William! I’m here, worried sick over you… and you’re out there laughing and having a good time… did you even once consider me?”

He was grateful for the privacy of the elevator as he rode downstairs. “Stop right there! Elisabeth, everything that I am doing right now, I am doing with you as my first, and in this case, only, consideration. Do not think for one second there is anyplace I would rather be or that you have not been constant in my thoughts. When I get back to Boston, which should be Friday, I think, we will have a lot of things to discuss and some important decisions to make.”

Liz was confused. What could she possibly have to do with Will’s business? It didn’t make sense. “You want my input? What do you mean? I’ve told you, I don’t know anything, really, about business. My lawyer Hill takes care of all that for me.”

While going through Alton’s papers, Harold Hill was a name that Will became very familiar with. “I know, Liz; I remember you telling me that. I just think that maybe it’s time we had someone else look through your affairs.” Realizing that might sound like he didn’t trust her, he quickly added, “A third party opinion, just to be on the safe side.”

Hill had worked for Liz since she was eighteen. He had always made sure anything she ever needed was done at once and had done wonders with everything from restraining orders for Thorpe to setting up the fake scholarship for JJ. Hill had been the one dependable adult, albeit a well-paid one, in her turbulent life. “Do you think that’s really necessary?”

Will dissembled. “I don’t think it would hurt.”

“Well, then, I suppose I must bow to your superior knowledge in this. However, don’t think my agreement means you’re off the hook, mister! A really short phone call or even a text saying everything was okay would have been better than the silence I had this evening. Let me remind you, since you seem to have forgotten, that you were in the hospital recently and are supposed to be taking things easy. I’m pretty sure that means not staying out doing God
knows what ‘til all hours of the morning.”

Will exited the elevator. “Truly, Love, I lost track of time. And before you say it, a dozen watches wouldn’t help the matter. I promise to do a better job in the future of remembering to ring if I’m running late. However, from now on, if you ever wish to speak with me, please, just ring… there’s no need to wait on me.”

“But I didn’t want to interrupt your important meeting.”

Elisabeth,” he sighed as he stood on the curb waving to his car. “I love you. Soon, you are to be my wife, and me your husband. Nothing, I repeat nothing, is as important in this world to me as you. You are not an interruption! If anything, you would be my relief in an undoubtedly dreary day.”

Liz instantly felt horrible for having turned into a nagging shrew. She had never before in her life nagged anyone about anything and found she did not like it one bit. “I am so sorry, Sweetheart! I love you, too. Forgive me?”

The driver opened the door, and Will sank into the comfort and warmth of the car. “Of course.” Deciding the conversation had become much too serious, he added, “Besides, I thought this was all well-covered ground, Love. I am a thick-headed idiot that needs constant correction to keep me from being a bastard and so it is your job to keep me on the straight and narrow with constant phone calls reminding me how much you love me and how wonderful I
am.”

For his efforts, Will was rewarded with exactly what he wanted. Liz laughed. “Oh? I didn’t realize I’d forgotten to feed the ego today. I love you Will. Thank you for not freaking out that I turned into a nagging fishwife.”

“I will always be willing to overlook such flaws so long as you are willing to do the same for mine. I know very well that I can be overbearing sometimes.”

“I think I can live with that. I believe we have a bargain. What do you think?”

“I have you, Love, and that’s the best bargain in the entire world.”

They continued to ease their minds with gentle reassurances and tender words of affection until Liz could no longer stay awake. They made a date to Skype over breakfast and bid each other sweet dreams until then.

As Will readied for bed, he vowed that he would do whatever it took to make Liz happy. Bennets, Gardiners and the whole world be damned.

Will was startled awake by his mobile. “Bollocks,” he groused as he fumbled around his sheets looking for the irritating electronic. He found it amid the twisted bedding and was able to answer just ahead of it going to voicemail. The display alerted him it was Henry ringing and so he gruffly stated, “What?”

Henry replied, “Morning, sir. Did you have need of me this morning? To discuss Axiom, I mean.”

The line was quiet long enough for Henry to wonder if Will had fallen back to sleep. “Sir?”

“No… I’ll discuss Gardiner with you later. This morning I have some… personal business to take care of. The next few hours are yours, Reynolds. Just meet me downstairs by nine forty-five and we’ll ride over together.”

A very tired Henry replied, “Excellent, sir. If you’ll excuse me, I’m for bed then. Goodbye.”

The dial tone came before Will could muster a response. Concern for Henry would have to wait, for Will had a date to keep. He rose and stretched, then stood in a cold, bracing shower, one he hoped would prepare him for the long day ahead without his Elisabeth. As he dried off and dressed, his mind drifted to Liz. She’s probably getting dressed after a long, steamy shower… damn! This isn’t helping any. Maybe after we’re married for a while, this need to think of her all the time will lessen and I’ll be able to concentrate on something other than Liz. Images of the times they’d spent together- some playful, some romantic, some tense and some very domestic- flashed through his mind and he concluded that there could be much worse fates than always thinking of his Elisabeth.

As he finished buttoning his cuffs, he stole a glance in the mirror to check that everything appeared alright. He studied his face. Liz had said she liked his face, even called him handsome, but nothing he saw seemed worthy to him of her admiration. His nose was too long and straight. Liz had called it patrician, but Will had always believed patrician was just code for over-bred and stuck-up.  What does she see in me? My eyes are just plain brown, my chin is, well, my jaw is too big and my damn hair just does whatever it wants. Then he remembered. She said my eyes are kind and my jaw is strong. He smiled as he recalled his recent beard and how Liz had called him her big, strong lumberjack. That’s right, you stupid, bloody idiot! She likes your smile, too! Truly, it doesn’t matter that I don’t see anything remarkable in the mirror… Liz does and that’s more than enough for me.

Will booted up his computer and made a cup of coffee as he waited for seven-thirty to come. Sitting down at the table in the kitchen, he sipped and was still trying to decide what, if anything, he should say about Alton Gardiner. Nothing’s certain yet… and I’d hate to unduly cause her pain… but we did say we would always be honest with each other… well, it’s not as thought I was never intending to tell her, just maybe not yet. He was still debating the matter when the welcome ring of an incoming call sounded from his laptop. Setting aside all thoughts of troublesome relations, he eagerly clicked talk.

As the video of Elisabeth popped up on the screen, Will was nearly caught speechless. She appeared the very picture of a professional businesswoman, albeit a business woman suffering from a bundle of nerves. “Good morning, Love. You look beautiful this morning.”

She appeared somewhat relieved. “Really? Thank you, Sweetheart. I wasn’t sure about the suit. I have a black one that would probably be okay…”

“Elisabeth, you look stunning just as you are. There’s no need to change, the grey is fine. You have nothing to worry about, Love. I’m sure you will do great today and when it’s over you’ll laugh about how nervous you are now. You need to relax, Love. They already know how brilliant you are… today you just get to prove it to them once and for all.”

She touched a tissue to the corner of her eye to prevent a tear from falling. “I love you, Will. Thank you for believing in me.” She giggled. “I guess it’s a good thing I went with the waterproof mascara this morning, huh? I am just so anxious and can’t wait to get this done! I just wish you were here with me this morning…”

“So do I, my love, so do I. Now tell me, aside from your nerves about your exam, how are you feeling? Are you feeling better, Love?”

She nodded and smiled. “I am, thank you. Have I told you yet this morning that I love you very much?”

He grinned at the opportunity to tease her out of her anxiety. “Hmm, let me think… have you told me you love me this morning? No, I don’t think so. Not yet anyhow.”

She shook her head and laughed. “Well… it seems I’m a bad fiancée then. So I can get back in your good graces, I will remind you that I love you more than I thought it was ever possible to love someone and I’ll even throw in that you are unbelievably handsome, too. If I didn’t know better, I’d be terrified of you in that suit! Now I know why they call them power suits.”

Will was surprised. This suit was just like every other in his wardrobe. “Truly?”

“When I first met you, you were pretty hot wearing only khakis and an oxford… but wow! That suit just screams virility and power… at least it does on you.”

Will reddened with her compliment, then shook it off and asked, “Wait, did you say you thought I was hot? When was this and why is this the first I’m hearing about it?”

“No!” Liz laughed. “No feeding the ego this morning! I promise, I’ll feed the ego plenty when you get home tomorrow!”

They teased and encouraged each other until it was nearly time for Liz to leave. Her stomach was in knots and she hadn’t eaten much for breakfast. Will made her promise to keep an especially close eye on her sugar because he had learned that emotions could affect her glucose and without food it would be even more affected. She promised that the moment her exam was over, she would eat plenty. Liz also noted that Will wasn’t having anything but coffee and
chided him for it. He explained that he never ate much before a big acquisition and Liz didn’t let him get away with that flimsy excuse anymore than he had let her. She made him swear that he and Henry would eat well.

“Speaking of Reynolds…” Will mused. “He sounded a little odd this morning.”

“Odd how?” Elizabeth asked with concern.

“I don’t know if odd was the right word. He sounded, well, I guess I would say really exhausted.”

“Did he go out with you and the Axiom people last night? After what happened when we took him out before, maybe that’s it.”

“If he did go out on the town, it wasn’t with me. Maybe the allure of the Big Apple was just too much for Reynolds.”

Liz laughed. “Seduced by the bright lights in the big city?”

“Something like that.”

“You should have a talk to him at lunch. Find out what’s going on with him. Show him you’re concerned for his well-being.”

Will found that idea ludicrous and had no qualms letting her know that. “Elisabeth, just what is it you think men talk of when we’re alone? I’m hardly about to ask my assistant to spill out the details of his personal life to me over sandwiches! After all, his private life should be just that: private!”

“Fine, I suppose you’re right. But will you at least promise to ask him if there’s anything wrong? If Henry’s acting odd enough for you to have noticed, then something really might be wrong.”

“I think there’s an insult somewhere in there, but since what you say is undoubtedly true, I think I can ignore it this time. Since you are definitely the wiser of us, and can therefore be assumed to know what is best, I promise to ask Reynolds if anything is amiss. However, if he says no, that’s the end of it… I refuse to meddle! Ask anything of me but that.”

Liz raised her eyebrow and gave him that mischievous look he’d come to adore. “Anything?”

Wrinkling his brow, he pretended to change his mind. “Perhaps I misspoke…”

She wagged a finger at the camera, and Will wished he were there in person. “Not so fast, Mr. Darcy. It was my understanding that you could be taken at your word. Is this not true?”

“I am nothing if not a man of my word.”

“Excellent! Just what I hoped to hear. Since that’s the case, I believe I may have to start a list of the things I would like to ask of you…”

Will groaned. “You, Love, are making it very difficult for me to concentrate. How am I to think of assets and strategic takeovers when you are tempting me so? Just what sort of things will be on this list?”

She taunted him, “That is for me to know and you to find out!”

“You, madam, do not play fair!”

Liz laughed. “I never claimed to!”

They kept talking and teasing each other until the alarm on Will’s watch alerted him it was time to head downstairs. “See?” He pointed to the new Cartier watch. “This bloody thing is finally worth something.”

Remembering the wonderful evening he bought it, Liz grinned. “You are the very best of men and I love you. Go on, have a great day and slay the evil dragons like the good knight that you are.”

“Thank you, Love. You also have a wonderful day. Knock them dead with your brilliance and show them there’s nothing that you can’t do.”

They each then said goodbye and logged off so Liz could leave for her last exam at MIT. Will put his laptop in his bag, put the bag on his shoulder and made his way to the lobby of the building where he found a bleary-eyed Henry waiting for him. One look at Henry was all it took for Will to know that something was indeed wrong.

Henry nodded to his boss. “Good morning, sir. I trust Miss Bennet is well?”

“She is remarkably so, thank you for asking and good morning to you, too.” Will shook his head. “Or is it? Pardon me for saying so, Reynolds, but you look like hell. Was it just a rough night, or is there something wrong?”

Henry was horrified. He knew he hadn’t looked his best this morning, but surely he didn’t look that bad, did he? “I’m fine, sir. After dinner last night, I went to a club that was recommended by a friend of mine and I was out much later than I had intended. It was very unprofessional of me… and I promise that I won’t do it again.”

“No, Reynolds, your life is your own. You need not make me any promises of that sort.” Will took another look at the man who had been his right hand for so long. It was shocking just how little he knew about Reynolds.

Once they were in the car, Will asked, “So, did you at least have fun last night?”

Henry blushed until he was the same shade of maroon as the tie he wore. “Yes, I must confess I did.”

Will smiled. This he could do. He could do guy talk. “Did you meet anyone?”

Henry’s eyes went wide and he wondered if there was a stamp on his forehead or something that said ‘ask me about last night’. Realizing that his boss wasn’t trying to be intrusive, but simply being polite, he answered, “I met several very nice people.”

Sensing that Henry didn’t wish to talk about his night, Will let the subject drop. As Will reviewed his files on the way to the Axiom building, Henry did his best not to think about the pair of stunning blue eyes in the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. The siren he’d met last night would provide no small amount of torture for Henry. Attachments made on holiday never worked out, and certainly not with the parties living on different continents! No, Henry would just remember his brief encounter last night as nothing more than a wonderful dream.

~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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