Coming Attractions



My NaNoWriMo 2011 project is entitled  “Walk With Me”. What happens when you mix a corporate wellness program with a competitive CEO named Will Darcy and his new, equally competitive head of PR Elizabeth Bennet? Then stir in an ancient teacup chihuahua and a new golden retriever puppy? Plus, toss in a heap of the usual suspects? Hopefully the answer is you get an entertaining spin on Pride & Prejudice. Please enjoy the opening (and therefore subject to change) excerpt. 

Walk With Me

A P&P short(er) story about corporate health initiatives, competitiveness, misunderstandings, forgiveness and dogs.

For my DH Bob, who is, seriously, in no way, not even the teeny-tiniest bit competitive. (Don’t believe it!)

Some people are simply born competitive.

Fitzwilliam Darcy was a competitive man.

This was, for the most part, a very good thing. His drive, his determination and what his dear grandfather had called ‘plain old gumption’ had served him exceedingly well- first in his academic pursuits, then his business ones.

However, while Darcy’s competitive nature was well and good in his professional life… it was currently wrecking havoc in his personal life and driving everyone around him absolutely insane.

~*~

Tuesday, lunchtime

“Damn, Darcy,” complained Charles Bingley, Darcy’s best friend and Vice President of Operations for the Darcy’s family company. “When I uploaded last night, you had 45,000 steps! How is that even possible? Did you find a way to attach the damn thing to a hamster in a wheel or something?”

Darcy picked at his Asian salad, wishing he’d chosen the Cobb instead. “I went for a run yesterday morning,” explained Darcy. When Bingley shot him a doubtful glare, Darcy added, “And another at lunch, and I visited all the departments, and I went to the gym after work. Then I took Georgie’s rat-dog out for a walk. Stop glaring at me.”

Bingley was adding up all the possible steps in his head and it still seemed too many. “Did your ass even touch a chair at all yesterday?”

Darcy had to laugh. “Actually, no. Really, Bingley… this was my idea and as such it only makes sense if I make sure I’m taking the lead in this.”

Though what Darcy said made sense, Bingley chose to ignore it. “Are you sure you didn’t attach the pedometer to Gordie? Because the program doesn’t even go ‘live’ until next week and you’re making us all look bad.”

“I’m insulted by that, and no, I did not attach it to rat-dog. Besides, I’m certain the weight of it would make the rat-dog fall over on its face.” The mental image of his sister’s dog falling over made him grin. “Hey, there’s an idea…”

“Great! I’ll get blamed for your cruelty to her dog. And it’s hardly a rat. I’ve seen much more pathetic looking Chihuahuas than Gordie.” Bingley was only quiet for a moment. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, you know you can ask me anything.”

“What made Georgie choose the name Gordie anyways?”

Darcy sighed and rolled his eyes. “Gordie is short for Gordita.”

Bingley laughed; something which Darcy had known was inevitable. It rankled him and he felt it necessary to defend his teenage sister. “Please remember that rat-dog is thirteen and at the time there were all those stupid commercials with the stupid talking dog that shucked for Taco Bell. Georgie found it hilarious and it was the only thing that I could do at the time to make her happy. I wanted a Golden Retriever. Instead we got a Teacup rat-dog.”

Bingley shook his head and cut another bite of meatloaf. “Your feats as an elder brother truly shame me.”

Darcy smiled. “If your sisters were anything like mine, you’d find it easier to be kind to them, too.”

“I’d be insulted… but you, my friend, you speak the truth! Speaking of my ungrateful, catty, spiteful, ungrateful-“

“You already said ungrateful.”

“Yes, I know! It definitely bears repeating. Anyways, since you finally were able to send Carrie to St. John’s, have you found someone to replace her?”

“Personnel has assured me that a highly-qualified and not even remotely crazy person starts on Friday.”

“Excellent! One more person to join in Darcy’s grand preventative health experiment.”

“Bingley, just shut up and eat.”

Offering an insincere salute, Bingley grinned, “Yes, Boss.”

~*~

Friday afternoon

The Director of Personnel, Dorothy Reynolds, was going over the basics with Pembergy’s newest employee. “So, let me see… I’ve given you the health and benefits packet, I went over the vacation, comp and personal time policies… all your paperwork is in order… Why do I feel like I’ve forgotten something?”

Elizabeth Bennet smiled. She had been very happy with everything she’s seen and heard so far. Everyone Mrs. Reynolds had introduced her to that she’d be working with had seemed nice. What had been perhaps the most eye-opening part of the tour was when Elizabeth noted how happy everyone was to work there. Nary one bad thing had been said about the company or those responsible for running it. The only person she’s heard anything negative about was the woman whose job she had just signed on to do. If first impressions were anything to go by, and Elizabeth truly believed in first impressions, she would be very happy working there.

Mrs. Reynolds snapped her fingers. “I remember! Thank goodness, too! Mr. Darcy has recently implemented a health initiative that all employees can participate in, free of charge.”

Having always been health-minded, Elizabeth said, “I’d like to hear more.”

“Certainly,” said Mrs. Reynolds. She went on to explain to Elizabeth that Pembergy was taking part in a million-step challenge through a corporate wellness website. Any employee interested simply signed up and was given a specially programmed USB-driven pedometer to wear, with a goal of walking 1,000,000 steps by the end of the challenge.

“What is that… like 5,000 steps a day? Shouldn’t be too difficult. Can I sign up for that?”

“Absolutely! I think you’ll find the program is really terrific! The website offers all sorts of encouragement and they send out these great emails when you achieve the goals that you set for yourself. There’s even food and exercise management programs and a place to blog, if that’s something you might be interested in.”

“I think I remember my sister’s fiancé mentioning something about this. I’ve been looking at getting a pedometer anyways… so why not?”

“Oh? Does his company have a wellness walking program, too?”

“Actually, he works right here. When I applied for this job through the ad on Monster, the company wasn’t specified. Charlie said my working here wouldn’t be a big deal. In fact, he kinda laughed that his soon-to-be sister-in-law was replacing his sister. We only realized we’d be both working for the same company yesterday.”

Mrs. Reynolds did her best to contain her surprise, and she did a remarkable job of it. Elizabeth wondered if HR people went through some sort of emotion-repressing management course so that the people they spoke with were never able to discern their true feelings on any given matter. When Mrs. Reynolds spoke, it was in the same controlled, yet sweet, manner that she’d been using all along. “Your sister is to marry Charles Bingley? Mr. Bingley is a very fine man and a pleasure to work for.”

Elizabeth confirmed this. “Yes she is. I’m so glad to hear that Charlie is good to work for, especially since I won’t be getting rid of him anytime soon!”

If Mrs. Reynolds was disposed to show merriment, she would have laughed. She nearly did anyways since, while Elizabeth was speaking, Charles Bingley had walked right up behind her. “I should hope not!”

Elizabeth was nearly startled out of her skin and blushed in embarrassment at having been caught gossiping her very first day on the job. She counted her lucky stars that Bingley was Bingley and not the sort of man who couldn’t take any teasing or good-natured ribbing.

She turned, hand over her still-pounding heart and scolded, “Charlie! Do you always sneak up on people like that?”

He flashed his famous boy-wonder grin. “Pretty much. That’s the best way to catch up on all the office gossip, don’t you know?” She groaned at his poor attempt at a joke. Leaning on what was now Elizabeth’s desk, Bingley turned momentarily serious and explained, “Really, I’m just now back from lunch and thought I’d come up and see how you’re doing at getting settled in. Reynolds is treating you well, I trust?”

Elizabeth nodded. “Very well, indeed. Everyone has been great. I think I’m going to really like it here. Thanks, Charlie.”

“Bah! Don’t thank me for anything. You’re the one with the killer resume and crazy-mad skills. You got this job all on your own… I only found out it was you after the ink was already dry on your contract. Later, when you meet Darcy, you can thank him if you want since the decision was all his, or at the least the final approval anyhow. I think you’ll like Darcy. He’s a good guy and may even give you a run in the smarts department!”

Mrs. Reynolds could not help but agree and added some praise of her own. “I have never known of a kinder CEO anywhere. I have known Mr. Darcy since he was four years old when his father used to bring him in to show him the workings of the company that would someday be his. I have always observed that the great men who actually take an early interest in their futures- and all of the responsibilities attendant to them- often make the best bosses.”

Elizabeth wasn’t sure what to make of this unique praise for a man she’d not yet met. “The two of you make him sound quite perfect. A real paragon of virtue!”

Bingley assured her, “We have said nothing that isn’t perfectly true.”

“Mr. Darcy is as close to perfect as I believe any man can be,” Mrs. Reynolds concurred.

Feeling like she was being pressured to canonize the man, Elizabeth rebelled and said, “Really? That’s too bad. Being far from perfect myself, I’ve always found that pictures of perfection, as Charlie should already know, make me sick and wicked.”

Bingley had laughed at the jest, but Mrs. Reynolds had found no humor at all. As the shock of hearing such a statement became evident on Mrs. Reynolds’ face, Elizabeth was pleased. She found it a relief that the head of her new employer’s HR department wasn’t entirely robotic. Not wanting to completely offend, she explained, “Mrs. Reynolds, Mr. Bingley is well-aware that my sister- his fiancé- is the epitome of every feminine ideal and since I could not be as angelic as Jane, I’ve opted to be a little devilish instead.”

Bingley shook his head to catch Mrs. Reynolds’ attention. “Ah, don’t let her fool you. Lizzy here likes to say things just to see if she can get a reaction out of people sometimes… and that is the full extent of her oh-so-wicked ways. Lizzy and my Jane are two of the loveliest and most genuinely nice ladies that you could ever wish to meet. Now Lizzy, how about we leave you alone to finish getting settled in so that you can start working! And Dot… how’s about I buy my favorite HR lady a cup o’ Joe?”

Mrs. Reynolds blushed and Elizabeth liked her all the more for it. “Thank you, Mr. Bingley.”

Elizabeth took her seat and said, “See you later, Charlie. Oops, I mean Mr. Bingley.”

“See you at dinner. And Lizzy? Tell Jane I’m bringing the wine.”

She waved her hand and turned to her desk as Bingley and Mrs. Reynolds walked off. There was much to do and Elizabeth was so excited with her new position she hardly knew where to begin. The small box she’d brought in with her personal effects seemed like a good place to start. She set out a few framed photographs; she and her father at her college graduation, she and Jane sitting on moving boxes holding up keys to their apartment and another of she and all her sisters kneeling in the sand with her parents standing behind them on a family vacation many years ago. A mug from her alma mater that she used as a pencil cup was filled and a bobble-head of Greedo from Star Wars completed her efforts for the day. As time passed, Elizabeth was sure she would add more items but she didn’t wish to overwhelm her office with personal things until she had a better lay of the land.

Elizabeth opened the filing drawers and began going through the papers within, cataloging their contents for future reference. She was positive she’d be reorganizing everything soon enough, but until she knew what was what, Elizabeth wouldn’t make any drastic changes. Sifting through a pile of papers stuffed in the back of the far right bottom drawer, Elizabeth found some pictures. Assuming they were her predecessor’s, she grabbed a new manila file and wrote “CB: PERSONAL” on it. She spied a snapshot of Charlie and another of Jane. There was a picture of Caroline posing with a bunch of women that she assumed also worked there. She was about to put them all away but she sneezed just then, causing her to drop the rest of the photos.

As she bent down to pick up the scattered images, she was drawn to a photo of the handsomest man she’d ever laid eyes on. Her original intent had been to just put all the pictures in the folder and call it done, but her curiosity had been piqued. One by one she examined the photos and whatever other faults Caroline Bingley might have possessed, taste in men was apparently not one of them. The number of pictures of this Adonis far outweighed any others. Several pictures were nearly identical and Elizabeth surprised herself by taking one of them and putting it in her top drawer. “She’ll never miss it. She’s got zillions of these… I can keep just one, right?” As she shoved the rest of the pictures and other personal papers into the folder, Elizabeth became more certain about her choice and began talking to herself.  “Yes, Lizzy, you deserve a bit of eye candy to look at. Now… where did I put that stapler?”

~*~

Friday evening

Elizabeth walked in the door from her first day on her new job and was greeted by the smell of homemade lasagna and garlic bread. She was starving and hoped that Bingley wouldn’t keep them waiting too long for dinner.

Unsure where her sister was, she loudly said, “Jane?”

“In here!” came Jane’s voice from the kitchen.

Elizabeth dropped her messenger bag alongside her gym duffel and poked her head in the kitchen where Jane was preparing the tiramisu. “Charlie said to let you know that he’s bringing the wine with him. If it’s okay with you, I’m jumping in the shower.”

Jane wrinkled her nose and scrunched her face as she teased her younger sister, “Please do!”

Elizabeth tugged her offensive workout shirt away from her neck and made a face of her own. “Yeah, I know it’s bad… but without working out how am I supposed to compete with the perfection that is Jane Bennet?”

Jane laughed. “You are ridiculous, you do know that?” With a twinkle in her eye, she then said, “Now, go shower and get girly, would you please? Charlie said he’s bringing his best friend with him tonight.”

“No! No set-ups, please! I should still be in therapy from the whole Collins debacle! I can meet men on my own, thank you very much!”

“You can, but you don’t. Besides, this isn’t a set-up. Charlie said his friend’s been really tied up…”

Elizabeth interrupted, “Hmm, tied up could be fun.”

“You, sister dearest, really are sick and wicked! Now, what I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted? Oh yes, Charlie’s friend has been really tied up with work- he travels a lot, I hear- and with some family issues… and since this guy’s his best man, it only makes sense to introduce him to my maid of honor, right?”

Elizabeth gave in. “Yeah, I guess. I hate it when you’re logical.”

“That would be why they pay me those non-existent big bucks.”

“Yeah, but you love it!”

“I do. Now, go take care of that stink! And you may want to burn those clothes.”

Elizabeth grabbed an apple from the basket on the counter, kissed Jane’s cheek and said, “Funny,” before heading down the hall to the bathroom to clean up and get ready for dinner.

~*~

It was while standing just outside of the Bennet sisters’ apartment that Bingley informed Darcy that he was introducing him to his beloved’s sister. Darcy did not take this news well. “No. No set-ups. Not doing it. If I wanted the hassle of a relationship right now, I can assure you that I’d be more than able to meet a woman on my own.”

Hearing voices in the hall, Elizabeth went to answer the door but waited a moment, not wishing to interrupt.

Bingley countered with, “You say that, but you don’t. And this isn’t a set-up. Besides, Elizabeth is more than just Jane’s sister; Lizzy is Jane’s best friend and happens to be the maid of honor. Since you’re my best man, though sometimes how ‘best’ you are is questionable, you ought to meet her before the wedding, shouldn’t you? Anyways, you’ll love Lizzy when you get to know her. She’s a great girl and even more than that she’s…”

Before Bingley could explain that she was gorgeous, witty, brilliant and Pembergy’s newest employee, Darcy broke in with, “Such a great girl that she’s got nothing better to do on a Friday night than hang out with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. Sounds pretty pathetic to me. Seriously… you really need to stop trying to pair off everyone else in the world. Some of us like, and even prefer, our freedom.”

This is the guy who I bothered to shower and clean up for? Elizabeth for a moment toyed with the idea of running back to her room to put on her grungiest jeans and that old flannel she wore to do yard work at her parent’s house. Yeah, but that would only give weight to his idea of my being ‘pathetic’. Deciding that he and his very decided opinions weren’t worth another moment’s consideration, she opened the door and brightly said, “Oh, I thought I heard voices out here! Charlie, how wonderful it is to see you! Come on in, dinner is just about ready.”

She was about to turn around and lead them into the apartment when she suddenly recognized the man who was standing behind Bingley. Him! Elizabeth thought, The Adonis from the photo! Just my luck…why did he have to be such a prick? Taking the wine bottle from his hand, she said, “Charlie, your friend is welcome too.” Elizabeth then did something highly unusual. She turned her heel to go hide in the kitchen with Jane until the last possible moment so she wouldn’t have to face the handsome-but-arrogant jerk any sooner than necessary.

Bingley smacked his oldest friend in the arm. “You jackass! These doors are paper-thin. I bet she heard everything that you just said.”

Darcy, just wishing the evening to be over, asked, “And why should I care?”

“You should care because not only did you just insult the sister of the woman I love, but you’ve also insulted Pembergy’s new Public Relations guru.”

“A warning would have been nice,” he grumbled.

“Ha! What would be really nice is to not have you but-in like an insolent know-it-all when I was trying to give you said warning. Darcy, you do have a singular talent for saying the worst things at the worst possible times.” Bingley roared with laughter. “And you’ve just, no doubt, royally pissed off the woman that’s been hired to fix things when you do!”

“Glad I can amuse you.”

“I’m sorry, but it is highly amusing.” When Bingley’s laughter subsided a little before he asked, “Can you try to behave for the rest of the evening and not be the grumpy guy from the hall and instead be the good guy that I’ve told Jane all about?”

“Yeah. I can do that.”

“Good. You better.”

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll let slip your new number to my sister.”

“I really hate you sometimes.”

“I know. That’s what friends are for.”

I hope you enjoyed the preview of my 2011 NaNoWriMo story. Thanks for reading! 

~Home~

Creative Commons License
Walk With Me by Jennifer Hickling aka michchick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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This is quite a departure for me. When I was hiking last month with my son, we were stuck for 36 hours in our tent while the worst thunderstorms occured around us on the mountain. In order to save our sanity, we concocted this P&P fairy-tale mashup. My son, age 13, has been reading a lot of classic tales as of late and much of the silliness which ensues sprang from his imagination. I am posting the first bit tonight to see what you might think of this. There are 3 more sections written and I have a good deal more outlined. I haven’t written fantasy or sci-fi since college, so please forgive any parts that are too far-fetched or absurd. Now that all disclaimers are out of the way, I give you A Tale Most Extraordinary.

 

A Tale Most Extraordinary

 

Chapter One- The Beginning

All the children gathered closer to hear what the old man was saying. He loved that he could hold them spellbound for hours as they listened to him weave tales, some true, some not, of life in the countryside. Town they knew well from their own experiences, but the country seemed to be where everything magical happened and they never tired of hearing about it.

The leader of the gang of children was a boy of ten named Edmund. He had begun to grow suspicious about the validity of some of the stories, but he still wished to believe and that was what mattered. Next in age, though not size, was nine-year-old Lizzy. The old man was imminently patient when she would badger him with questions about the people, places and circumstances in his tales. He knew he should love all the children equally, but it was difficult not to favor his bright-eyed Lizzy. The six-year-old twins, William and George, normally were off scuffling with each other but were always quiet and well-behaved for story-time.

He was about to begin when he noted an absence. “Where is Anne? Is she not here?”

A giggle erupted from behind the old man. He turned to find her hiding beneath his chair. “Ah, here she is. Here’s my little Anne. Now, are you children ready for your story?”

A chorus of little voices answering ‘yes’ sounded.

He put on his spectacles and picked up a newly illustrated edition of children’s stories. “Excellent. What should you like to hear today? The Master Cat? Perhaps Blue Beard? Ricky of the Tuft? Certainly not The Little Glass Slipper again?”

Four-year-old Anne piped up, “Ogre and the Princess! Please?”

He hid a smile. This was the story they always wanted. “Are you certain? Absolutely certain? Ed? Lizzy?”

William and George put up a fuss. George protested first, “You did not ask me!” William added, “Nor me!”

He patted their heads. “Because you two scamps are always content to hear Ogre and the Princess.”

William and George agreed that was true enough.

“Now, unless there are any objections…” he waited for Edmund and Lizzy to protest, but they did not. “Excellent. Where then shall we begin?”

The usually shy William exclaimed, “The beginning!”

“Yes, I suppose that would be the best place to start. Shall we begin with the Ogre this time, or shall we start with the Princess?”

Edmund, who usually just sat quiet, asked, “Could you start with the witches?”

He smiled. “The witches it shall be then.”

Chapter Two- The First Witch

“Once a very long time ago, in the harsh, northern wilds of North Yorkshire, there lived a tradesman. This tradesman was a very good man, and he loved his wife very much. They longed to start a family and had tried for many years. After many years, they still had no children and the tradesman was very sad. The tradesman’s wife was a very lovely woman, and she had the most magnificent voice that was ever heard. She would work in her garden and instead of singing, the birds would be silent so they could listen to the tradesman’s wife. One day there was a man dressed in foreign clothes that happened to pass nearby when the tradesman’s wife was singing and he became enchanted.

“The man had a dark secret. He was no ordinary Gypsy, no indeed, this man was a warlock. And the warlock had fallen under the spell of the tradesman’s wife. He approached her and begged her to come away with him, but she refused. She loved her husband more than her own life and when the warlock realized this, he was heartbroken. He begged her everyday to leave her husband and everyday his heart broke a little more when she told him she would not leave her beloved tradesman. After several months of this, the tradesman had finally come home from his business travels only to find this warlock trying to steal away his wife. The tradesman was going to kill the warlock and be rid of the man once and for all but his wife, being a very good woman with a big heart, had grown fond of the warlock, despite never being able to love him.

Anne interrupted, “What did the tradesman do?”

Edmund shushed the girl as Lizzy said, “Anne, if you can stay quiet long enough, he will tell us!”

The old man smiled. “Do we need to take a break, or are you ready to continue?”

The silence that ensued proved they were eager for more and so he continued. “The warlock, touched by the tradesman’s wife’s compassion for his life, offered the husband and wife a bargain.”

George asked, “What kind of bargain?”

William poked him in the side and said, “Be quiet or he won’t tell!”

He began again. “The tradesman and his wife were rather old to not have children…”

“Old like you?” Anne inquired.

He could not help but chuckle. “No, my sweet, not like me. They were still young, but more like your mum and dad’s age without ever having been a mum or dad. Do you see now?”

She nodded eagerly and so he continued. “So the warlock, noting the tradesman and his wife had no children, offered to cast a magic spell that would allow them to have children.” He paused in case there were any more questions, but they remained quiet so he pressed on. “Of course, the warlock was greedy and he demanded that the wife give up her voice in exchange for having a child. The tradesman had deemed the price was too high to pay, but the next day the wife met the warlock in secret and agreed to the warlock’s demands. He took her sweet voice and put it in a jar so he could hear her sweet song whenever he wished. The warlock prepared an awful potion which he had the wife ingest and then he said his magic incantation that would enable the tradesman and his wife to have a family at last.”

Lizzy had forgotten about the stolen voice. “So the wife was left with no voice at all then? How cruel!”

“I forgot a bit. Please forgive this old man. Yes, after the warlock took the wife’s voice and had cast the spell for a firstborn child, he would not leave her mute. He cast a minor spell which allowed her to speak, but her new voice was harsh and shrill and would make whoever heard her speak cringe in fright and disgust. The wife felt ill from the potion and her throat was sore from having exchanged voices and so she succumbed to a swoon before she could even make it back to the house where her beloved husband was anxiously waiting for her.

“When she didn’t come home that afternoon, he searched everywhere for her and had begun to fear the worst when it grew dark and they still hadn’t found her. At first light, the tradesman and his neighbors searched and searched even more until they finally found her sleeping peacefully in the garden. He was overjoyed to have found his wife again and carried her home at once. When she awoke, she suffered from a fever and, for a while, the tradesman lived in great fear that his wife would die. On the fifth day, her fever broke and the tradesman prayed his thanks to God that his wife had been spared. She still wouldn’t speak, but the apothecary and everyone else believed it to be from her illness. No one knew or even began to suspect that she had made a dark bargain with the warlock.

“The spring turned into summer, and still his wife did not speak. He missed the sound of her beautiful voice, but he was grateful to have her alive and with him. In late summer, they discovered they were to have a little one soon join their family and they both rejoiced. That winter, when the babe’s time came due, they received a missive from a faraway land. The tradesman could not read the unusual hand, and so he sought out someone to help him read his letter. There was only one woman in the village that was able to make out the letter and she was very frightened by what it said. The letter was from the warlock. He wrote thus:

My dear Sir and Madam-

I can imagine your surprise in hearing from me. I have consulted my telling ball and I believe your family is about to increase. There is something you ought know, but I shan’t tell. In time you will hear from me and all will be revealed then. For now, just know that I am watching with great interest. I am always watching.

Yours & C.

Dumetru

“Now, you can imagine that the tradesman had never dreamed he would ever hear of the warlock again, and here the man had written him! He asked his wife what she knew of the matter, but she refused to speak without her own voice. In February, the babe, a girl, was born. The tradesman was over the moon with happiness until a cold day in March when the warlock returned.

“The warlock, Dumetru, met the tradesman and told him of all his wife had sacrificed for him. The tradesman then raised his blade in order to dispatch the villainous Dumetru, but the warlock blocked him with his staff. He then warned the tradesman that his daughter was special. She was a witchling, even though she was born of no witch’s blood. With this devastating news, the tradesman fell to the floor in despair and Dumetru made his flight. When he recovered, the tradesman told his wife the news and she cried out in her shame. This was the first that anyone had heard her new voice and the sound was terrifying. The tradesman, who had loved his wife more than his own life, could love her no more. In her sadness, she fell ill with fever and this time, she did not recover.

“The girl-child, despite everything, was all that was lovely. Her father, against his better judgment, doted on the child. It was just the two of them, the tradesman and his daughter, for several years before he met a friend of his sister’s and found love again. The tradesman married and had two more children- another daughter and a son. Though he loved all his children, he was always especially worried about his eldest. He had named her Carys, for despite all that had happened, she had been born out of the great love he had once felt for her mother. Carys was a charming child when she chose to be. She could be polite when it served, but more often than not she was scheming against her sister and brother for a greater share of their father’s affections.

“When Carys was but seven, her father was overtaken by some highwaymen and killed. Llewella and Cai were very small when this happened, but their mother, a kind woman named Eirian, did the best she could to keep them all together. Before long, Eirian had come to the end of what she could provide for the children. She was just about to part them out for labor when a man came from out of nowhere to pay her court. Can anyone guess who this man was?”

Edmund was quicker than the others. “Was it Dumetru?”

“It was! Eirian was left with little choice. Dumetru did not love her, nor did he expect her to love him either. He married Eirian and took Carys on as his apprentice. He provided a home and care enough for Eirian and her children, but he held Carys above everyone else, as she reminded him of his lost love the tradesman’s wife. Eirian had truly loved her first husband, and she tried to stay strong enough to go on for Cai and Llewella, but in the end her broken heart wasn’t strong enough to go on. Dumetru was not cruel to Cai and Llewella, but having them around interfered with his plans for Carys’ education in the dark arts. He sent Cai and Llewella off to live with some of Eirian’s distant relatives.

“Dumetru taught Carys to think of herself first, to think meanly of others and showed her the means to acquire whatever she wished for, by whatever means were necessary. When Carys turned eighteen, he set up an establishment for her in Town and provided enough for her to look after her sister and brother. Through some prudent investments mixed with magic, Carys and Dumetru had amassed a small fortune that was enough to but entry into much better society than they had ever before known. Once Dumetru was certain his protégé would be successful, he made his way back to his homeland, but only after promising  Carys he would always watch over her.

“Carys knew that she would need help in achieving the money and prestige that she sought, so she set about to make amends with her half-sister and brother. Cai was an easy-going and likeable fellow and she sent him to the finest institutions in the land for his education. Llewellen was another matter. Her sister was still suspicious of this newfound affability and so Carys felt she had no choice but to marry her sister off at the earliest possibility.

“Carys was about to make a match for her sister when Llewellen met and fell in love with a man named Urien. While Urien loved Llewellen very much and respected Cai, he mistrusted Carys and was very wary of her. Cai finished his schooling and Carys was determined that her brother would be the gentleman their father could never have dreamed to be.

“And that is where we will stop the tale of the first witch. What character shall be speak of next?”

Chapter Three- The Farmer and the Fair Maiden

“What say you Edmund? The second witch? Or is it the Ogre of which you wish to hear?”

Edmund thought for a moment before giving his answer. “The farmer! I would like to hear about the farmer and the maiden.”

The old man looked to Lizzy. “Do you think we can make a fair go of it without yet telling the tale of the second witch?”

Lizzy smiled. “I believe if anyone could, it would be you!”

“Very well then. For this part of the story, we must turn to Derbyshire. In Derbyshire there lived a very kind farmer and his family. This farmer was a rare thing, for he was a wealthy farmer and he farmed land of which he had ownership. In fact, this farmer had more land than he could honestly take care of on his own, so he rented out the adjacent lands to other farmers at a fair price. This not only had made the farmer wealthy, but it had made him well thought of and respected throughout his home country. The farmer was proud of his land and the things he had accomplished. He had inherited his farmlands and like every generation before, he had made improvements to his lands and had begun to instruct his son in all the ways that he could make the lands profitable and prosperous for years to come.

“When the farmer and his son went one summer to Town, the son was encouraged to make friends and partake of the amusements that could not be found north in Derbyshire. One evening at the theater, the farmer’s son chanced to see a beautiful girl, the fairest maiden in all the land. After the play was over, the farmer’s son looked everywhere for the maiden, but could find nothing at all. While the farmer spent his days in negotiations for market prices, the farmer’s son searched frantically for the maiden. Each day the farmer’s son became more determined to find this ethereal creature and court her with the intention of making her his bride.

“A month soon passed, but the farmer’s son was still hunting everywhere for the fair maiden. Then one day he and his father were at the park in Town and he spied her across the way. He caught his father’s attention and indicated he wished to seek an introduction. His father was the sort of man who would do anything to ensure the happiness of his children and so made it happen. The fair maiden was, in fact, the daughter of a fearsome Earl and he did not like the idea of his precious daughter being courted by a mere farmer’s son.

“The fair maiden soon fell in love with the farmer’s son in equal measure to how the farmer’s son felt about her. The farmer met with the Earl several times in order to plead his son’s case. They had plenty of money, his son would inherit the second largest estate in all the country and, while not titled, the farmer’s family was well-know and had been of good reputation for centuries. The Earl countered that while that would be sufficient for a mere country lass, his daughter was expected to do much better.

“The farmer’s son, in the meantime, established a friendship with his beloved’s brother, the Viscount and future Earl. He was as gentlemanly a fellow as one could find anywhere and, more importantly, he supported their cause to wed. The Viscount tried to soften the Earl’s heart. He could not understand why his eldest sister should be made miserable by having her heart’s desire denied for no good reason.

“The Earl, in the meantime, had come to admire the young man’s persistence. A year had passed and the farmer’s son was still seeking permission to court his eldest daughter. The truth was the Earl could not bear to part with his favorite child. His eldest daughter was in every way an angel and it would not have mattered if a Duke or even a Prince had sought her hand, the Earl would have still denied permission. However, as the farmer’s son had earned the grudging respect of the Earl, he took pity on him and offered his younger daughter’s hand. The younger daughter had also fallen in love with the farmer’s son, but I do not wish to get ahead of our story, so I will get back to the younger daughter later.

“The farmer’s son was insulted and cried that the Earl was being cruel and unfair to both himself and his eldest daughter. The Earl had begun to wonder if he could ever be rid of this lad and so he set a series of impossible tasks before him. If the farmer’s son rose to the Earl’s challenges, he would win his most beloved daughter’s hand. Feeling relief at finally making some progress, the farmer’s son readily accepted.

“The first task was to bring back some tea from Boston. You do know your history and the significance of tea in Boston?”

Edmund raised his hand. “The colonists dumped the tea in the harbor to avoid paying taxes on it. Is that correct, sir?”

“Very close, Ed. The Boston Tea Party, as it’s called now, was a turning point which led the colonies to eventually revolt against the crown. The Earl demanded tea from Boston, thus sending the farmer’s son on a long journey to America and back. The farmer’s son was gone nearly a year and each and every day of that year he prayed that his beloved would not forget him. When he came back with the tea, the farmer’s son was not even permitted a glance of his fair maiden. The next task the Earl demanded was sugar, for the tea of course, from Antigua. The farmer’s son had just spent a year travelling abroad and now he would spend another one travelling to the tropics. He returned, no worse for wear aside from having his skin weathered, to only be sent upon another impossible journey. This time, the Earl wanted honey from Egypt. Off the farmer’s son went, wondering what far-flung corner of the world he would be sent to next. Upon his return, he discovered something wonderfully dreadful had happened while he was gone.

“What? What happened?” asked a most excited William.

“The Earl had died. The new Earl, his friend the former Viscount, immediately granted permission for the farmer’s son and his sister to wed, just as soon as the period of mourning was over, of course. After all the trials of the last three years they’d been through, waiting another six months was easy by comparison. Finally, some four years after he’d first laid eyes on her, the farmer’s son at last was wed to his fair maiden and they moved north to Derbyshire.”

Anne meekly questioned, “And did they live happily ever after?”

He patted her head and smiled. “For a time they did… but for now, we will leave the farmer and his maid alone in their newlywed idyll while we move on to another part of the story. What shall it be? What say you William?”

William glanced to his fellow audience members and as they nodded to let him choose, he asked, “May you tell us, pray, the tale of the second witch?”

“Ah, so it is to be the tale of the wicked witch from the garden, then? Excellent notion, my boy!”

 ~Home~

 

Creative Commons License
A Tale Most Extraordinary by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Lots going on in this chapter… we get the plane & meet the Captain (recently expanded character- thanks McBeta!) and dum-de-dum-dum-dah! Wickham steps front-and-center. Oh, and Henry can’t hold his liquor! Enjoy!

 

*Chapter Sixty-Two*

 

Monday morning was hectic. Since Will and Henry needed to go to Logan to inspect the plane which would be arriving, it was decided that Will would take the Escape while Liz would manage her own way to school. Liz wasn’t sure that this was the best idea, but Henry insisted he knew his way around a GPS well-enough to make up for Will’s technophobia. Only after exacting a promise that they would call if they needed any help at all did she agree to this plan. They would do some work, then go to the airport and, once everything was settled there, they would make their way to campus where they would pick Liz up from school. Will was glad she’d invited them, he’d been highly curious to see the institution that had played such a large part of his Elisabeth’s life.

On the subway that morning, Liz caught up on phone calls. She spoke with JJ, Lottie and was even finally able to reach Denny Fields instead of going another round of phone tag. It had been longer than she could remember since she had spoken with her old friend, but they comfortably spoke as if they’d never let their friendship lapse.

After catching up on the goings-on in each other’s lives, Denny asked, “So, my dearest Lizard, please tell me that you’ll be in Boston next week, because I am dying to see you!”    

Liz bubbled with enthusiasm at the possibility of seeing her old friend. “Yeah, we’ll be here. I can’t wait for you to meet William. I promise; you’ll like him.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. It all depends on whether or not he’s good enough for my Elisabeth. You’re sure, really positive that there’s nothing going on between him and Carrie Bingley? Because, girlfriend, she sure seems to believe it’s all a lock except for the ring.”

“Well, Denny, seeing as how I have his ring, I’m going to say she’s greatly mistaken. I like Carrie, I always have, but I swear, if she goes all boiling bunnies on us, I’m not sure what we’ll do. Bil and JJ have promised to keep an eye on her if she gets out of control. Carrie, by the way, seemed greatly taken with you. She dropped your name a least a hundred times over Thanksgiving.”

“She’s sweet, in an apparently psycho sort of way. I can help you out with her… I mean, I’d be willing to, if, and only if, this Mr. Darcy of yours meets with my personal approval.”

“Denny, you’re the best! Are you coming to stay with us then? I have a daybed downstairs… or I have that pull-out in my office. What am I saying? Of course you’re not staying with me. You’ll probably stay at the Liberty or somewhere more elegant.”

“And miss out sleeping on a poky-spring sleeper? Why the hell would I do that? Stop being silly, girl! Of course I’m going to stay with you. I’m only in town for a day or two and I’d much rather see you and yours than stay in some stupid hotel where they’ll kiss my ass.”

Liz laughed. “So, instead you’ll stay with me where I’ll kick your ass?”

“Of course! God, Lizard, I have missed you, girl! How has it been so long since we’ve talked?”

The memory made Liz wince. “Because I was stubborn. I made some bad choices and wouldn’t listen to you when you were the first one to tell me to kick Drew to the curb.”

Denny made a disapproving sound. “Good old Eww-Drew. So, how is that manipulative piece of scumbag these days?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” Liz said truthfully.

“Good for you, girl! I’d smack you upside the head if you actually knew the answer. You are so much better off without that kind of man. This Darcy of yours, I’ve seen him at a few events and things. Very stiff-upper-lip, very British… are you sure he’s the right one for you? I’ve never heard anything bad about him, he’s not a playboy or anything, but, are you sure you want that kind of life?”

“You’re not the first to ask me that. He doesn’t like the fame, he’s never sought it and he’s pretty sure that once he’s married, he’ll stop being so interesting to the press. At least that what he hopes. I suppose that we’ll have to see what happens when I get to England. God knows I’m boring enough and not worth following.”

“Ain’t that the honest truth! You, my lovely, are a breath of fresh air! Is Monday copasetic for our reunion, or would Tuesday suit better?”

“Monday is fine.” Their conversation was winding up, but before she let him go, she needed to ask one thing that had been bugging her. “What’s with your speech? All the girls and ain’ts and exaggerated words… it’s really weird, Denny and not like you at all.”

“I know. Mom still scolds me about it all the time. But really, it’s just a habit. Lizard, I’m living in this huge cliché: the gay fashion designer! And, with it, there are certain expectations. When I first started in the business, I wasn’t gay enough, and so I listened and once I figured out what people wanted to hear, that’s what I gave them. It’s not such a big deal, really. Everyone has to capitulate sometime in their lives. The important thing is deciding what things are worth fighting for and which things are not. Using girlfriend because it’s what people expect to hear is definitely not worth fighting for.”

“I suppose not. That all makes sense, I suppose, but it’s really kind of sad, isn’t it?”

“Honey, if it is, I find I can’t get worked up over it. I am more successful than I ever dreamed I would be and, overall, I can’t really complain about my life. But, I’ve got a plane to board now, so I’m going to let you go and I will call you as soon as I get to Boston. I can’t wait to see you!”

“Me either! Do you still braid hair? Because I never could do it as well as you could.”

“A hair party? Now I wish I could cancel this week’s meetings and get there sooner! They’re calling me by name now, so I really have to go! Love you, Lizard! Smooches!”

“Love you, too, Denny! Have a safe flight!”

Liz put her phone back in her bag and wondered if Henry and Will would let Denny do their hair.

Back at Liz’s, Will and Henry were going over their checklist for New York. They would first meet with the New York team to go over all the details and prepare for any last-minute surprises. Later they would settle in to the company apartments across the street and try not to dwell on the negotiations. Their position was clear. They could walk away and knew well enough that Axiom could not afford for that to happen. This position of strength would hopefully be the key to getting everything Will hoped for out of the acquisition.

Henry’s mobile rang and they were informed the Gulfstream had landed at Logan and they were ready for them anytime. Being close to noon, they set aside the Axiom papers and headed to lunch on the way to the airport. Once they finally made it to Logan, they checked through security and were escorted to the hanger where the plane was ready for inspection. A tall blonde man dressed in a Captain’s uniform was waiting on the ground next to the steps.

The man, who stood even taller than Will, stepped forward and doffed his cap to greet them. “Good afternoon. I am Captain Wentworth. I presume one of you is Mr. Darcy?”

Will reached out to shake the Captain’s hand. “I am William Darcy. So, Captain Wentworth, how long will you be with us?”

If there was one part of his job that Frederick Wentworth hated, this was it. “I’m available as long as you have need of me, Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy looked over the pilot with a critical eye. He was pleased to note by the man’s accent the man was also from Britain. He seemed a decent enough fellow, and his references had been impeccable. “So then, we aren’t keeping you from any pressing engagements at the moment?”

“None,” admitted Wentworth sadly. “At the present, this is my pressing engagement, if you take my meaning.”

“Very well. We shall see how things progress, on a trial basis. If at the end of, say, forty-five days, both you and I are happy with this arrangement, we’ll see about hiring you for a permanent basis. Would that suit you, do you think?”

Wentworth agreed that it suited him very well indeed. Wentworth introduced Will to the sales agent from Gulfstream who then proceeded to take Will and Henry on a tour of the plane. They were shown all the amenities and had all of the features explained in such minute detail that Will had a hard time listening without losing interest. As his thoughts began to drift, he wished Liz was there with him. She would have appreciated this tour much more than I ever could. All I want to do is get from A to B comfortably. Why would I care what kind of bloody wood they burled for the end-tables? Just when Will was beginning to consider tossing the man out the door, the salesman stopped talking.

Will could have kicked himself when he, quite out of habit, said, “Was there anything else we needed to go over?”

 The salesman, who had no idea how close he had come to bodily harm, responded in the correct manner when he answered, “I don’t believe so. We’re ready to go ahead and sign the final contract confirming delivery. That is, unless you had some additional questions?”

“No, none at all. I think you’ve covered everything rather well. Now, where do I sign?”

Moments later, the papers confirming the sale and delivery of William Darcy’s new Gulfstream 650 were signed. Once the salesman left, Will invited Wentworth to sit down and tell a little bit about himself.

“Well, there’s not much to tell, really. I was working for another company, an American company, but their CFO made some bad decisions and they had to sell off most of the company assets, including the plane I’d flown for eight years. I am hoping to eventually relocate and be based in London. I’ve been gone much too long.”

“My company is based in London, but this plane is my property and not tied to Pemberley directly. Of course, I do intend to use some it for business, but my fiancée is American and so I believe we’ll also be traveling a good deal on more personal business. Overall, I do not travel as extensively as other CEO’s, but it’s enough that it could disturb a strict schedule. I need a man who is willing to be flexible. If you can be flexible, I see no reason why the job won’t become yours.”

“Thank you, Mr. Darcy.”

“Now, as for our schedule… Reynolds and I… damn! Wentworth, this is Henry Reynolds. Reynolds, this is Captain…” Will thought hard, but could not recall Wentworth’s name. “Sorry, seems I’ve forgotten. What is your given name again?”

“I don’t believe I said. It’s Frederick.”

“Good. That means I haven’t gone completely barmy yet today. Reynolds, this is our Captain, Frederick Wentworth. Now, Wentworth, you don’t mind that, do you?”

“My name? No, sir, Wentworth is fine.”

“Excellent. Wentworth, we’ll leave for New York just after lunch tomorrow and then fly back either Wednesday or Thursday. Do you need to make any special arrangements for accommodations?”

Wentworth shook his head. “No, sir, the agency said that your assistant had already done.”

Will gave a nod of appreciation for Henry’s efficiency. “Thank you, Henry. Well done.”

Henry said proudly, “I do try, sir.”

“And it shows.” Will gave one last look around, and then addressed the Captain, “Well, it seems then that since everything is in order. That being the case, we will see you tomorrow. Have a good evening, Wentworth.”

“Thank you, sir.” Wentworth doffed his hat once more and gave a nod. “Same to you.”

In her office, Liz was wrapping up a long session of grading papers, still trying to ignore the temptation of Googling Will. When one of the essays she was reading misattributed a quote, Liz knew she ought to look up the true source and logged onto her computer. She noted the correct author as Thales, not Pythagoras, and finished making her other remarks. She smiled at the mix-up. I guess it’s all Greek to him. When the last of the papers were graded, she brought up her homepage, ostensibly to check her email. She responded to a few, deleted even more spam and just when she was about to log off, the list of trending topics caught her eye.

Number one was last-minute Christmas gifts, number two was how to prevent H1N1 and number the number three top trend was Britain’s most eligible bachelors. Liz stared one full minute at the screen before she gave in and clicked on the link. There, on top of the list, even ahead of Prince William, was her William. Accompanying his name on the site was a photograph taken of him at some charity event, Will looking handsome as ever. The blog gave estimates of his wealth, listed his properties, listed a dating history which included quotes from various women who claimed to have had a relationship with him. Liz’s stomach began to churn. Before she even realized what she was doing, she Googled Will and the screen stated there were over eighteen million results for him. After the Wikipedia entry, but before the Ancestry.com link, there was a link for images. There were pictures of William with a beautiful young girl who had similar enough features that she believed the girl was probably Georgiana. There were pictures of him sitting on the sand at the beach with some children that she assumed were his cousin’s kids. There were pictures taken at the market, on the street, in restaurants while eating mid-bite and still others where he was getting in and out of various cars. Pictures that were obviously shot at greater distances showed Will leaving from a building that from his description could only be Pemberley. Even more disturbing was the fact that his life seemed to be catalogued, almost day-by-day, here on the internet for anyone to see. She began to panic. God! Is this what my life is going to become? Will we be able to do anything in peace? What have I gotten myself into?

There was a knock on her door which served to snap her out of her momentary distress. Reflexively, she shut off her monitor and beckoned, “Come in.”

The door opened, revealing Will and Henry. Taking in the appearance of her office gave Will further insight about Liz. On the wall hung the famous picture of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out, captioned with “E=MC² because I said so!” Her desk had several small boxes in various stages of being opened with miniatures of cats in them to mimic Schrodinger’s theoretical experiment. There was a stuffed puppy-doll with a bell and a tag on his collar that read “I belong to Pavlov” and someone had taped a piece of paper to it that said “Bad Dog”. There were many whimsical and personal things in the office, each offering a bit more information about Liz’s character. Will loved it.

“Lovely office you have here, Sweetheart. I particularly like this,” he picked up a Monty Python action figure from one of her bookcases.

“Ah, you would like that. ‘It’s only a flesh wound!’ I love the Black Knight. JJ and Bil gave that to me a few years ago.”

Henry piped in. “I love Monty Python. John Cleese is amazing.”

Knowing that he and Liz each held a preference for a different Python, he just nodded his head while Liz bit back a smile. “John Cleese has his moments, to be certain,” Liz agreed. “I’m just about finished here. Will, were we going to take care of that business we talked about last night?”

“What business?” He asked and when Liz glared at him, he instantly remembered. Good God, she’s got that marital evil-eye thing down pat already! How the hell did I forget about Wickham? Never mind, you bloody well know precisely how you managed to forget about that bastard. God, I can’t wait to get married. Once we’re married, and everything settles down, then maybe I’ll be able to string more than three thoughts together coherently! He took in the picture Liz made sitting on the edge of her desk, white board covered with data behind her, books, files and papers everywhere and he remembered the other night and decided that he probably never stood any chance of sounding intelligent ever again.

Liz raised her eyebrow to show she was still waiting and he recalled he still hadn’t replied, so he did, “Yes, I think it would be for the best. Afraid it slipped my mind earlier, though.” He turned to Henry and said, “Do you remember that idiotic Scotsman George Wickham?”

Henry definitely remembered that man. George Wickham was the sort of man who honestly believed he was doing you a great service by allowing others to stand in his presence. If there was one thing Henry Reynolds truly found appalling, it was unwarranted egotism. “I do recall him. What brings him up now?”

Liz, knowing Will would have trouble remaining calm while speaking of Wickham, answered, “He’s here, actually. He’s working in a bar not far from here and it looks like he’s trying to woo this ditzy heiress who’s in town.”

Henry was shocked. “But he’s a derelict of the worst sort! Why would her parents allow that?”

“Marty King is almost eighteen and was recently orphaned. She’s weeks away from inheriting everything her father built for their family. According to tabloid TV, they’ve been seen partying around together. From what William says, it seems an intervention is needed.”

Henry asked, “And you know where to find that horrid man?”

Will and Liz nodded.

“Then what are we waiting for? Shall we be off then?”

Will was more than glad to turn the keys back over to Liz as well as the responsibilities of driving. Within ten minutes, they were parked down the block from the bar that had the misfortune to employ Wickham.

The three of them sat down together at the bar and ordered beverages. The bartender was not amused when Liz and Will ordered sodas, but managed to offer Henry a slight nod of approval when he ordered a double Scotch.

When the bartender was otherwise occupied, Henry leaned in and said, “Very wise, refraining from spirits so that you can keep your head clear in case Wickham becomes unruly.”

Will felt Liz poke him, but he ignored her prompt and agreed with Henry. “Yes, I thought it prudent.”

Even without looking at her, Will knew Liz was likely rolling her eyes at him for not explaining that he didn’t drink and hadn’t in years. As far as he was concerned, it was no one else’s business but his.

“I would have done, too,” Henry said after a sip of his drink, “but it would have looked rather strange if all three of us tee-totaled it this evening, don’t you think?”

Liz estimated that it would likely only take one more drink to do Henry in entirely, he seemed like a lightweight to her. “I’m not drinking because my body just turns alcohol into sugar and it’s just something I’d much rather avoid. I don’t believe you know yet… I’m diabetic.”

Henry’s glass was now empty. “Like Mary Tyler Moore?”

Liz giggled. What made him think of that? How odd! “Yes, just like Mary Tyler Moore.”

Will caught their attention and motioned that he was going to step away from the bar. Wickham had arrived.

Wickham stood at the entrance and scanned the patrons, looking for someone he could chat up and either wrangle some cash from or take home. The pickings seemed pretty thin, but not too terrible for a snowy Monday. When Wickham’s eyes landed on Liz, a slow grin came upon his face. He sauntered across the room and helped himself to the stool that Will had recently vacated.

“Hey now, if it isn’t my bonny Liz. How was your holiday?” Before Liz had a chance to reply- because truly, he wasn’t interested in what she had to say- he continued, “You were greatly missed here,” he paused to give her his most seductive look, “especially by me.”

Liz looked him square in the eye and played jealous. “Come now, George. We’re friends, right? Friends don’t use such lines of utter bullshit on each other, do they? You’ve been out and about all over town with that teenage girl and you know you can’t deny it because it’s been on the news. Come clean with me, George, what kind of game are you playing?”

“No games, dearie. Just having a bit of fun isn’t wrong, is it? You know you’re the only lass I’ve kept an eye on.”

She wasn’t sure how much more she could listen to without her stomach going into a full revolt. Pushing down the disgust she felt in just being near him, she batted her eyelashes and demurred, “Really, George?”

Henry, having just downed a second double-Scotch, was feeling uncharacteristically brave. “Hey there!” Henry shouted much too loudly, “I know you,” he stood between Liz and the would-be-lothario and began to poke George in the chest. “You’re that rat-bastard thief Wickham, aren’t you? What a small world this is!”

It had taken George a moment to place the man who was yelling and shoving at him. When he at last knew who Henry was, George found it greatly amusing. “Why yes, it surely seems to be! How is it that Darcy’s lackey has managed, from halfway around the world, to come into my bar of all places?”

Henry started to laugh like a madman. Before George could inquire what was so amusing, a voice he’d hoped to never hear again said from somewhere behind him, “Your bar? It was my understanding that you just pour drinks here.”

Liz enjoyed watching all the color drain from George’s face much more than she probably should have. Reynolds had sat down again, but was still laughing. With Henry no longer standing in the way, she had an excellent view of whatever would pass between Will and George. As much as George had lost all color, it seemed to have reappeared in Will’s face, for Will was clearly livid.

George recovered some of his humor and said, “I ought have known you’d never let your dog run too far off his leash. Should I be flattered or frightened that you care enough to track me all the way to Boston? Come now, we used to be friends of a sort! What’s past is past; can’t we just leave it there and be done?”

“You were never my friend, and you bloody well know that! As it happens, my being in Boston just happens to be the most fortuitous of circumstances. I’ve been making all sorts of new acquaintances, some of which you might even be interested in.”

 George scoffed at the notion, “Highly doubtful, Darcy.”

Will appeared to give what George said a moment’s thought. He smiled confidently, which worried George a great deal, before saying, “Too true, Wickham, especially given that underage girls are more to your liking.” George’s eyes flashed with fear, which Will noted with great satisfaction. “Astonishing. It’s not like you to not be curious. You won’t ask with whom I was chatting, so I will tell you. I was speaking just now with Jack King.  Fascinating man. Very concerned about his niece. Seems she’s taken up with the most loathsome sorts of late. He’s on his was here directly to collect his beloved girl and take her back to California.”

When everything finally registered, George lunged at Will. “You bastard!”

 Will was too quick. He stood and moved out of the way before George could make contact. Having missed his object, George Wickham fell to the floor in a heap.

Refusing to escalate matters, Will let the insult go. “I’ve been called much worse by far better men than you.”

 The commotion drew a great deal of attention and with so many people now watching them, George knew he needed to bide his time before he could make another move. Will reached down to offer George aid in getting up. George naturally refused and made to stand on his own. Once he was up, George dusted himself off and gave Will a glare of warning. “This is only the beginning. You’ve messed up my plans once too many times, Darcy, and for that you’ll pay.”

It was then George noticed Liz was standing next to Darcy, holding his hand. He gave a bark of derisive laughter before addressing Liz, “And you! You’re nothing but a bit of skirt chasing the top dollar! I see how it is now! Oh, this is fine. This is a really fine day, indeed! Maybe you deserve this uptight prat instead of a real man after all.”

Liz could feel Will’s whole body tense beside her. She squeezed his hand and when she had his attention, she whispered, “I’ve got this.”

“George, I can understand why you would be confused on the definition of a real man. You’ve obviously mixed it up somehow with your definition of real women. Real men don’t date teenage girls, no matter how grown up the girls think they may be. You are a disgusting example of manhood and should be locked up and branded as the pedophile you are!”  

George Wickham was furious. “You bitch! You…” Will, who had been only waiting for an opportunity, punched George in the mouth, causing him to, once again, meet the floor.

The on-duty manager, Brian Murphy, made his way over to see what all the ruckus was about. “What’s George doin’ on the floor?”

“I’ll tell ya ‘bout it, Murphy!” A woman stepped forward to tell what she’d witnessed. “That slimeball George finally pissed off the wrong guy. Got what was comin’ to him, but good! George called this here lady a bitch and her boyfriend here did only what he ought and punched him real good. Don’t know why you been keepin’ George here anyhow. He’s always up to no good and thinks he’s better than everybody, always braggin’ ‘bout how he’s gonna make a fortune without workin’ like the rest of us got to.”

A murmur of agreement sprang forth from the other bar patrons. The manager turned to Will, Liz and Henry and spoke, “Well, seems you wasn’t to blame for what happened. George’s been acting all loose-cannon like the last month or two, so’s it seems it’s time to part ways wit’ him. Now, Liz, you ain’t caused no trouble in here ever before, but I think it’d be for the best if you didn’t come in here for a while, ‘kay?”

Liz nodded that she understood. “I promise, Murph. Sorry about all the trouble we’ve caused tonight.”

Will extended his hand to Murphy in a show of goodwill. When Murphy took it, he said nothing about the bills that had made his way into his palm. The only indication that anything had been exchanged was the slight nod Murphy made to Will when he said, “Thanks.”

The bouncer, along with several burlier regulars, propped up Wickham until he would be conscious enough to leave under his own power. Liz, Will and Henry headed home to celebrate.

As they entered the condo, Henry was leaning on Will for support. “I have had the best time tonight! The best! Have I mentioned that I love you, Miss Gardiner?” Henry hiccoughed, found it hilarious, and then hiccoughed again. “I love you too, Mr. Darcy! You are both so kind to me! You are both so happy…” Henry’s mood then seemed to shift. “Why can’t I be that happy? I want to be happy and loved too. Why can’t I find someone?”

Liz shut the door behind them. “I think maybe that you’re a little bit drunk, Henry, and it will all seem better in the morning.”

Henry looked panicked. “It won’t be! Don’t you love me too?”

Liz looked to Will, who only managed to shrug his shoulders a little without dropping Henry. After a deep sigh, Liz answered, “Of course I do. You’re a very sweet man, Henry.”

“Am I really?”

Will had dragged Henry all the way to the guest room. “You’re a bloody paragon. Now, go on, sleep it off. I suspect you’re going to have a right awful hangover in the morning.”

“Thank you, Mr. Darcy! Thank you, Miss Gardiner!” Henry collapsed on his bed. It appeared he was out cold, so Liz and Will shut the door quietly. As they made their way to retire for the evening, they heard Henry began a loud and completely inaccurate version of Queen’s Somebody to Love.

Liz was somewhat worried. “Do you think he’ll be alright?”

Will reassured her. “I imagine so. I’ve never known him to drink, this is a bit unusual, but I believe he’ll be alright.”

As they turned in for the night and got ready for bed, Liz and Will were each grateful that they’d each found somebody to love. More importantly, they realized every bit of good fortune that they had been able to recognize it when it happened.

~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.


My 2010 NaNoWriMo entry is a story entitled “A Mother’s Heart” and varies a good deal from P&P canon, but I believe it’s a modern tale (if a bit of a tear-jerker) that many of you will enjoy.

After several years of working together, my dearest McBeta has decided to stop editing for others period. She is a published writer in her own right and between family obligations and her own deadlines has found it increasingly difficult to meet timely goals for others. When I finish A Mother’s Heart, I will be looking for a new Beta. I am not looking for a repeat of OoR where the story grew by leaps and bounds after NaNo was over. Reservations was originally 90,000 words at the end of last November and at last count it was well over 200,000 (and still growing) and that is why it’s been slower (especially lately) to post. I fully intend to turn over Heart in it’s entirety for editing when complete and then we’ll go from there.

So, OoR is still coming. We’re heading into the later portion of the story and things will start moving faster from here. As quickly as I get chapters back from McBeta, you’ll get them. In the meantime, please take a look at the prologue to A Mother’s Heart and let me know what you think.

-Thanks! -Jen aka michchick

 

A Mother’s Heart

 

For my Uncle Dennis, God rest his soul.

And for Kristen, Cheryl & Carla and all the others who are born with ‘broken’ hearts.

 

Prologue

 Labor Day, September 1992

From the backseat of his parent’s car, a sullen eleven-year-old William Darcy asked, “Why do I have to be nice to her? She’s so weird.” Before his parents could address their churlish son, he continued, “And her lips are blue!”

Exasperated, yet again, with his son, George Darcy begged his wife, “Anne, please talk to your son. I’ve tried but he only seems to listen to you!”

Anne Darcy, who was blessed with patience that would make any saint jealous, turned to address her pouty child. “Now William, Lizzy can’t help that her lips are blue any more than you can help that your hair is curly or your eyes are brown. The poor dear has a bad heart and because her circulation, or the way that her blood moves through her body, is poor because of something called cyanosis. She’s not weird at all- she just has a broken heart.”

William had at least listened. “Sounds pretty weird to me. If her heart’s broken, can’t she just get a new one?”

Anne shook her head. “It’s not that easy William. Hearts are not exactly sold in stores, are they?”

Unable to recall ever seeing one, William said, “I guess not. They should try Hammacher Schlemmer. They sell everything at Hammacher Schlemmer.”

George corrected his son. “That’s just being absurd, William. While they do seem to have almost anything you could want, there are some things that even money can’t buy.”

William, even at eleven, knew his family to be wealthier than most. “I bet we could.”

While George and Anne sought to not spoil their son, they had been unable to get their respective families to adhere to their wishes. “Anne, your son needs to have a few things explained to him and I just can’t!”

Anne Darcy sighed and began trying to make William understand. For the rest of the ride to the Bennet’s, Anne made clear that there were some things that all the money in the world could not buy.

~*~

Upon arriving at the Bennet’s home, the Darcys were greeted by a jolly looking man wearing an apron smeared with barbecue sauce. “George! Damn, it’s good to see you!”

The men shook hands. “It’s good to see you too Steven.”

“Anne,” said Steven Bennet, “it’s really been too long. Frankie will be thrilled to see you.”

“I’ve missed her too. And all of you as well,” she said.

“And where could William be?” asked Steven while looking right at the boy. He made a show of looking in the car and said, “I thought for sure you’d bring your son with you… but I don’t see him anywhere!”

William cleared his throat. “I’m right here Mr. Bennet. It’s me, William.”

With a wink to George he said, “That can’t be! George is this right? He’s not a little boy anymore at all! No, this here’s a proud, young man!”

William knew Mr. Bennet was being ridiculous, but he didn’t mind at all. Of all the people that he had to see because of his father’s business, he liked Mr. Bennet best of the lot. Standing as tall and proud as he could, he said, “I’m eleven now, sir. I’m starting sixth grade this week.”

“And how shall you like it? Are you a good student?”

“I like school alright, I guess. I get straight A’s, sir.”

Steven put his hand on William’s shoulder and smiled. “Very like my little Lizzy. She’s very bright and I think that you’ll get on well with her once you get to know her.”

Despite being certain that he would never under any circumstances ever like the blue-lipped girl, he answered, “Yes, sir.”

“Excellent!” said Steven. “Well then, shall we go and catch up with the rest of the party? Everyone’s out back.”

Steven Bennet had known George Darcy since their days together at Harvard. It had taken George years to finally convince his dear friend to come and head his company’s IT division, but persistence had paid off at last. Once Steven had given in and decided to join Pembertech, he relocated his family from New York to California.

Each of the Bennets had taken the move very differently. For Frankie Bennet, she had come home. Having grown up in the Bay area as a girl, she was ecstatic to be closer to her extended family and old childhood friends. The rest of the family each took the move differently.

The eldest Bennet offspring, Jane, was such a sweet and amiable girl that she was just happy to be anywhere she so happened to be. At thirteen, with long honey-colored hair, blue eyes and skin which easily bronzed, Jane very much looked like she was born to be a California girl. At nine, Lindsey Bennet was a toe-headed terror who cried and whined every waking moment that she’d been forced against her will to leave all her friends and how life would never be the same. And then there was ten-year-old Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Bennet was just grateful that she was still alive.

Born with several serious congenitive heart issues, the Bennets had been told very early and often that every day that little Lizzy had was a gift. She had already undergone several open-heart surgeries and had been on the UNOS list for several years. Frequent doctor’s visits, hyberbaric oxygen treatments and more medications than she could count were the keys to her survival until the right heart became available.

Aside from her pallid complexion and blue lips, Lizzy was a beautiful girl. Her large, deep blue eyes always seemed to shine especially bright and she was rarely without a mischievous grin upon her face. Since she could not exert herself physically like other children her age, Lizzy had buried herself in books and consequently was found to be very wise for so young a person.

Lizzy was sitting on a garden swing in the backyard reading The Secret Garden, just content to be sitting in the fresh air and sunshine, when she overheard some boys.

“So are you going to join in any of the games today Will? Or are you going to be as boring as always?”

Without looking up from her book, Lizzy recognized the boy who’d just spoke as Charlie Bingley. Charlie was almost thirteen and lived next door. Jane thought he was really cute, but it would be social suicide to admit you liked a boy in a younger grade.

“Games? Those are for babies. I don’t think so.”

Lizzy smiled. She’d know that stuck-up brat William Darcy anywhere.

There weren’t a lot of kids in their age range at these events. Most of the other kids were in high school or diapers, which left very few options for anyone to hang out with.

“Will, trust me on this. The grown-ups are going to make all the kids play this year. Don’t you realize what this means?”

Lizzy had to hold the book closer to her face to hide her smirk. Charlie was so easy to figure out!

William had to admit he didn’t. “No, I guess I don’t. What do you mean?”

“Girls, you idiot! It means we can be paired up with girls! And have you looked at some of these girls? They are hot! Imagine being tied up with Jenna Long or Kate Gould for the three-legged race?”

“Jenna and Kate are in high school! I think you’re the idiot Charlie! Those girls won’t want anything to do with a seventh grade moron like you.”

“Okay, I give you that. Jenna and Kate are way out there, but I may actually get a shot at Jane Bennet today!”

“Somehow, I doubt that.”

“Oh, do you? Did you wanna make a bet on it?”

“You’re really very stupid, aren’t you? No, I don’t want to make a bet, no I don’t want to be paired off with a girl and no, I don’t want to play any baby games. All I want to do is go home and be left alone!”

“Fine! If you want to be left alone… then go and be alone, like Lizzy.”

“Like Lizzy? Please don’t compare me to that weird girl! She doesn’t even hardly go outside! Did you see her at the pool last week? She’s got all sorts of scars and stuff. What kind of blue-lipped freak is she anyways?”

Although she had a frail heart, Elizabeth Bennet had thick skin. William’s rude and insensitive remarks were nothing she hadn’t heard before. Closing her book, she walked right up to the two boys and, directly addressing William, said, “I’m the Modern Prometheus.”

Not understanding why weird-girl was speaking to him at all, or even what she’d said, William asked, “Excuse me?”

With that toothy lop-sided grin of hers that he hated, she answered, “You asked what kind of freak I am and so I’m telling you that I’m the Modern Prometheus. There’s your answer. Now you boys have fun with the baby games! Oh, and good luck with the girls!” She giggled as she walked away to return to the house. 

William was dumbfounded. “Weird girl is laughing at me! No one laughs at me!”

Now Charlie was laughing too. “Yeah they do. They just do it behind your back. Now let’s go find some girls.”

~*~

The Pembertech Labor Day Company Picnic was in full swing and everyone, even William, seemed to be having fun. The band had just begun playing when someone came running from the house in search of Steven Bennet.

Maggie, their housekeeper, was out of breath from running.

Having never known Maggie to run for anything, Steven grew afraid. “What’s this about Maggie? What’s wrong? Is it Lizzy?”

At last, Maggie could speak. “Yes Mr. Bennet, it’s about Miss Lizzy. UNOS is on the phone!”

Creative Commons License
A Mother’s Heart by michchick AKA Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

So… Chapter one then opens up six years later in 1998 and we go from there. The story is firmly outlined and while it’s very sad and seemingly hopeless in a few parts, I believe in the end this will be one of my favorite things that I’ve written.

Thank you, as always, for your kindness and support!

-Jen aka michchick


NEW STORY PREVIEW!! Trying something new here… let me know what you think. It’s Regency, though not canon. It’s a what-if that begins just prior to Easter 1810 in London. Jane and Lizzy are visiting the Gardiners, Darcy has not yet hired Georgiana’s companion and Bingley is determining where life should take him. The help (and sometimes interference) of a family friend brings many changes- will they all be welcome? I have a firm plot outline and have about seven chapters written in a composition notebook. (yes, the secret is out… I am not the most tech-savvy chick out there, shocking, I know!)

Without further ado… I present the first chapter of Without Reference. 

Without Reference

Chapter One: Meetings of the Garden-Variety

Monday afternoon- Vauxhall Gardens, April 1810

The loud, and decidedly unfeminine voice, cut right through the crowd. “My, oh my! As I live and breathe! That can’t be little Miss Lizzy, can it?”

Little Miss Lizzy desperately grasped the arms of her companions. “Jane, Aunt Gardiner, I think we must save ourselves now! We are about to be set upon and we’ll surely never escape.”

“Now Lizzy, surely you cannot begrudge dear Mrs. Jennings the pleasure of your company, can you?” asked the ever-blithe Jane Bennet.

As Elizabeth Bennet watched the lady in question barrel towards them with no regard for the parties she upset that had the misfortune to lie in path, she said, “If only I could Jane. I fear it’s too late for an escape now. Our only hope now is to brace ourselves.”

Mrs. Gardiner loved her nieces dearly and was always amused by how night-and-day the two girls were in their demeanors. Jane, the eldest Bennet girl, nearly twenty-one, only saw what was good and right in everything around her. Elizabeth, the next oldest and just eighteen, had her father’s dry wit and found great amusement in the folly of others. As Mrs. Gardiner was, like her nieces, very familiar with Mrs. Jennings, she would have thought that Elizabeth would have been pleased by a new object of amusement.

Needing to satisfy her own curiosity, a trait that she often shared with Elizabeth, Mrs. Gardiner enquired, “Elizabeth, Mrs. Jennings is no more difficult to bear than anyone else of our acquaintance. I’m afraid I do not understand your reluctance to meet her now.”

With only moments to explain, Elizabeth whispered, “I had a letter from dear Mrs. Jennings just prior to leaving Longbourn. She begged my company and went on at length how her fondest wish was that she longed for my company while she repaired to Kent for the summer. I dissembled in my reply that I was unsure of our plans and knew not when I’d be again in Town. I fear that I have very few options Aunt.”

Mrs. Gardiner could only laugh. “It surely will not be so bad Elizabeth. You know that it would hurt your father deeply if you did not attend to Mrs. Jennings. While we shall sorely miss your company, you cannot mean to deny her this simple pleasure.”

Elizabeth, looking like a scolded child, muttered, “No Aunt, I do not. My only hope is that age has possibly addled her mind and she will have forgotten her invitation.”

Jane thoughtfully spoke, “But Lizzy, is not Kent the Garden of England? With your love of nature, you shall no doubt find yourself well-occupied.”

For her attempt to help her sister see the possible good in the situation, Jane was rewarded with a glare from Elizabeth.

Mrs. Gardiner sighed, “Elizabeth Margaret Bennet! I saw that look. One would think you eight rather than eighteen, acting so! Mrs. Jennings is not so very terrible and you very well know it. She is a sweet lady who only wishes the best for everyone.”

“By seeking to secure it for them herself,” added Elizabeth. She further complained, “Mrs. Jennings is the queen of the match-making mamas and now that I’m eighteen, she surely won’t leave me alone!”

Still some twenty feet away with a few groups between them, Mrs. Jennings shouted, “Miss Lizzy! You stay right there, is that Jane and Elise? Splendid!”

Jane, Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner did as they were bidden and stood rooted in their location, awaiting the arrival of Mrs. Jennings.

Finally, an out-of-breath Mrs. Jennings came upon the little group. “My dearest girl! How pleased I am to find you in Town! I had nearly despaired that my plans for you this summer would come to naught, but now I can see that I had worried for nothing.” Turning to Mrs. Gardiner, she continued, “I’m so glad that you were able to rescue Lizzy from the machinations of that wretched woman. To think she wished to keep Lizzy sequestered away in Hertfordshire, intent to wait upon that toad-eating cousin of Tom’s to make my Miss Lizzy an offer! Preposterous! That’s what it is, plain and simple- preposterous! Why, the boy is not even yet done with his studies! What can your sister be thinking? I know not, and that’s for certain. Now, shall I call to pick up my Miss Lizzy tomorrow, or would this afternoon be more convenient for you, Elise?”

Mrs. Gardiner let the silence stand for a moment longer than was entirely proper. With the ever-verbose Mrs. Jennings, it was always best to err on the side of caution. One just never was certain when she would open her mouth again to speak and it would be rude to interrupt the venerable lady.

“My nieces and I have accepted an invitation to a private musicale this evening. As eagerly as Elizabeth has been anticipating your company, I am afraid that we must beg your leave to defer her departure until the morrow. That is, if you find that to be an agreeable arrangement Mrs. Jennings.”

“Very agreeable, Elise! I shall send my carriage ‘round eleven to fetch you Miss Lizzy! My, oh my! What fun we shall have together this summer! You will be in raptures when you hear just what I have in store for you! Now, if you ladies will be so kind as to excuse me, I seem to have lost my dear Mrs. Flemming. Elise, Jane, Lizzy, until tomorrow.”
Tuesday morning- Gardiner House, Gracechurch Street, near Cheapside

Elizabeth tossed the last of her things into her trunk. Turning to her sister, she asked, “Jane? I know it’s just not done, but would you please say a brief word at my funeral? I know this trip will surely be the death of me!”

Jane gently admonished, “Oh, Lizzy! You know very well that once you get to Kent, you’ll have a grand time with Mrs. Jennings. You so love to meet new people and are much better suited in large company than I.”

“You, dearest Jane, are everything good and by comparison I know myself to be very wicked. When Mama goes on about how I remind her of Mrs. Jennings, I find myself looking for the nearest cliff so I can decide my own fate rather than have one not of my choosing thrust upon me.”

“You speak so freely all the time Lizzy, never worrying about the consequences of your words. Perhaps that’s all Mama meant by her comments.”

Elizabeth could not help but laugh. “Censure? From you Jane? I shall have to mark this with especially large print in my diary tonight! Truly, I have noticed that Mrs. Jennings and I do share that trait. I must be more vigilant and watch that my tongue does not run along ahead of my brain.”

An exasperated Jane cried, “Elizabeth!”

“I can do that too. Jane! See?”

Sighing that her sister could be so purposefully frustrating, “Yes, I see.”

When the younger girl smirked in triumph at flustering, once again, the unflappable Jane, she realized that she held in her hands a pair of slippers her sister had asked to borrow and was inspired by a spark of mischief to lend them to her sister much more forcibly than originally intended. As the kid leather shoes hurled through the air towards Elizabeth’s unsuspecting back, Jane called out, “Here, catch!” and then ran out of their shared room, mirthfully laughing all the while.

Rather than be upset at having footwear launched at her, Elizabeth was greatly amused that Jane had dared to even do such a thing at all. Stepping into the hallway and addressing Jane’s retreating back, she shouted, “You missed me, you missed me!” even though Jane hadn’t.

Mrs. Gardiner had been on her way to check on her niece’s progress when she heard such a commotion that she was momentarily confused. These girls that were teasing and running through her house shouting could not possibly be Jane and Lizzy. No, somehow they’d changed places and before her must be the silly likes of Kitty and Lydia for it was impossible to think that Jane could ever have taken childish revenge against Lizzy’s teasing!

Standing directly behind an unaware Elizabeth, she nearly jumped out of her skin when her aunt began to speak. “I have no idea what you have done to provoke Jane’s ire Lizzy, but if you’ve indeed somehow managed to disturb your sister’s equanimity, I shall not be the one to correct her. Except perhaps to help her improve her aim.”

When her aunt begun her speech, Lizzy did truly feel chastised. But her aunt’s pronouncement about aiding Jane in her future abuse of others only made her grin brilliantly.

“Please do! Then Jane may actually become a formidable opponent rather than…” her voice grew louder as she shouted down the stairway, “… such a meek mouse!”

Jane called back, “This meek mouse at least has fleet feet!”

That, of course, made everyone laugh quite heartily and in earnest.

Friday morning- Darcy residence, Brook Street, Mayfair

The master, a young man of nearly six-and-twenty was nervously fingering the edges of some letters of reference as he began to speak. ‘“Well, Mrs. Younge, it does seem as though everything is in order here. If you are indeed still interested in the position, you may start this coming Monday. I expect that just as soon as you were settled and better acquainted with Miss Darcy that your party should be leaving for the seaside by Friday at the latest. What say you Mrs. Younge?”

Augusta Younge stood as tall and proud as she could manage, saying in a firm voice that sounded appropriately authoritative, “I’d be delighted. Your sister, Miss Darcy, is such a charming girl and I can promise you that under my guidance, she’ll be properly schooled in all the things that a young woman ought to know.”

Clapping his hands together in relief, Mr. Darcy said, “Excellent! I shall see you to the carriage and speak with my man. When you arrive home, please feel free to have the carriage wait for you so you can begin to send your things back with it.”

She nodded a curtsy but demurred at his offer. “You are very polite and kind, sir! I thank you for your trouble, but can assure you that when I arrive Monday, you’ll see that I can manage all my possessions quite easily on my own.”

Uncomfortable, he mumbled, “Oh. I’m sorry. The life of a paid companion must be fairly austere then.”

Noting his unease, Mrs. Younge suppressed a smile. “I have possessions enough, Mr. Darcy. You will not find me lacking in want of anything material, sir.”

“I do not believe I shall. Thank you again for accepting the position. If you’re ready to leave then, I shall just see you to your carriage.”

Mrs. Younge only then smiled and nodded.

As they exited the Darcy’s townhome, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy was about to continue addressing his sister’s new companion, when he heard the loud, distinct voice of his neighbor accompanied by the crystal-clear laughter of a young woman. The brash voice he well knew. It could only belong to his busy-body neighbor Mrs. Jennings. The other voice he knew not, but when he stole a glance at the young beauty responsible for it, he wished he did.

Mrs. Younge made a remark which ended, “…do you not think so Mr. Darcy?” to which he could only non-commitally nod his head. Knowing that he just might have agreed to four days off a week or some other unthinkable concession, he shook his head and turned his head away from his distraction and focused once more on his sister’s companion.

“Did you have any further inquiries to make about the position, Mrs. Younge? I am at liberty to answer any questions or allay any uncertainties you might have.”

“Uncertanties? Sir, I must tell you that I count myself among the most fortunate of souls to know that I am to hold a position with the Darcy family. I assure you sir, I have no misgivings or concerns at all and promise that I will do my very best to always comport myself in such a manner that I should never bring any shame or infamy to your house.”

Relief washed across Mr. Darcy’s face. He had been so unsure about doing this on his own. The estate he could manage. Tenants were no trouble. He could be ruthless when need be in business. However, in matters that concerned his young sister, he often found himself a lost man. “I thank you for your time today Mrs. Younge and extend a welcome to our household. We shall greatly anticipate your arrival on Monday.”

“I look forward to that as well, sir. Thank you, again, for this opportunity Mr. Darcy. I look forward to watching over Miss Darcy. Your sister is clearly a great lady in the making.”

Mr. Darcy would never curtail anyone’s praise of his sister. “Thank you for the compliments Mrs. Younge. She is shy to be sure, but I think with the proper care and guidance, Georgiana will be a very great lady indeed.”

Mrs. Younge felt very pleased with herself. She had been warned that Mr. Darcy was, at best, a difficult man to deal with and, at worst, could be quite tenacious. That she was able to sail through her interview virtually unquestioned had surprised her greatly. She had been under the impression that Colonel Fitzwilliam might be there as well. That would have made things less easy, but Augusta Younge had every confidence that even had the Colonel been at their conference, she would have charmed her way into the position regardless. The key seemed to be to play to their vanity, the same as with all well-off people. Tell them what they wish to hear, stroke their egos, exaggerate the good qualities, demure the poor ones and before you knew it, you were welcomed into the bosom of their society. It was too easy by half!

With an enthusiasm that in every way appeared genuine, she gushed, “Of course, Mr. Darcy, all credit, as her brother, must go to you, sir! She will do great honor to your name for certain.”

Mr. Darcy was about to make some remark in reply, when out of the corner of his eye he espied the young woman approach them rapidly, with Mrs. Jennings trailing her while quickly waddling to catch up.

Though he was curious what their hurry was, he knew he needed to finish his business with Mrs. Younge and so turned his attention back to her, only to find she had lost all her color as she too noted the young woman’s approach.

Elizabeth began her tirade before she even reached them. “Augusta Younge! What the devil are you doing here? How dare you show your face in polite society anywhere, let alone London!” Taking a breath, she turned and implored Mr. Darcy, “Sir, I pray that you have not taken this, this, well, I cannot say all the things she is, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that she is no lady and unfit to work in any respectable household. Do not be taken in by this ill-favored jade, sir, I beg you!”

Standing in shock, Mr. Darcy knew not what to say. Thankfully, his input on the matter would soon be unnecessary as Mrs. Jennings, quite out of breath, finally caught up.

“Miss Lizzy! What on earth do you think that you…” she paused but a moment when she saw Mrs. Younge standing before her. “You! What the devil are you doing here?”

Elizabeth stood in complete mortification having realized that in some ways she was indeed very like Mrs. Jennings. She would need to look to that and make immediate amendments to her character!

Mrs. Jennings continued, “You harlot! What are you doing here with Mr. Darcy? And Darcy, you cannot be seriously considering this, this harridan for any position in your house, can you? The only thing this woman is suited for is working in Covent Garden and make no mistake, I do not mean as a flower vendor!”

Mr. Darcy was not often spoken to in such a matter. Mrs. Jennings, having been one of his closest neighbors in Town since he was a small child, had always been afforded more leniency than others were allowed in their addresses to him. He needed to always remind himself that his parents had always admired this lady and so he tempered his words accordingly when he spoke. “Mrs. Jennings, it is very good to see you again. You find me in the very process of offering Mrs. Younge here the position of Miss Darcy’s companion. Am I correct in understanding you posses a strong reason that I should not do so?”

Mrs. Jennings cried, “I have many reasons why this skirted albatross should never darken your door! However, I believe that this is a tale that would best be told by Miss Bennet.”

Reaching out her hand for Elizabeth to step forward, Mrs. Jennings quickly made the introductions. “Miss Lizzy? This here is Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire. Darcy, this young woman is Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire. Miss Lizzy, please enlighten Darcy here, if you would be so kind, as to why he should do anything but hire this, this, well, I do not wish to call her a woman, though I suppose that’s the form the devil gave her.”

Elizabeth was about to begin her tale when Darcy spoke first. “Excuse me Miss Bennet, this will sound very strange indeed, but is your steward’s name Mr. Abernathy?”

Stunned, Elizabeth answered warily. “Mr. Abernathy was indeed our steward. He is no longer in our employ. How did you come to know our former steward’s name?”

Darcy frowned. “I hold in my hand here,” he waved the papers for effect, “a letter of reference from the man himself describing in great detail how well regarded Mrs. Younge was by Mr. Abernathy. It further goes on to say how invaluable she was in her services as a governess for your family. This, I take it, is not the case?”

Elizabeth’s cheeks burned with anger. “It is not, sir! Nothing could be further from the truth! Augusta Younge was dismissed from our employ without reference, period. She is the basest kind of scoundrel there is. I know scoundrel is not a word used to describe ladies, but Mr. Darcy, please believe me, she is no lady!”

Darcy had heard enough. He had not been diligent for the first time in his life and he was thankfully saved from feeling the full effect of it by the timely interference of his neighbors.

With his Master of Pemberley tone, Darcy calmly asked, “What have you to say Mrs. Younge? No specific charges have been laid against you. As yet, all that’s been questioned is your moral character. Would you care to make a statement?”

Augusta knew the game was up. She just needed now to get away before she drew any further notice. Damn that Bennet chit! Miss Elizabeth had always been the troublesome one in that house. Jane was too nice, Mary too self-involved and Kitty was too busy following wherever Lydia might lead. Lizzy had always been the smart one. Though she had no proof, she was as sure as she was breathing that her dismissal from Longbourn was because Lizzy had found her out. How she hated that girl! She would find a way to exact revenge on that chit if it was the last thing she ever did

“Mr. Darcy, while I have done some wrong in my past, I ask of you this: are there any of us without sin?”

Elizabeth was livid. “You dare twist scripture to suit your purpose?”

Darcy held his hand up and gently said, “Miss Bennet, I thank you for your concern. Mrs. Jennings, I thank you as well. I have been negligent in my duty to my sister and I thank you both for helping me prevent a mistake of no small magnitude.”

Mrs. Younge tried once more, “Mr. Darcy? You cannot seriously believe the word of this slip of a girl over me, would you?”

Coldly, he replied, “I would. You are dismissed. If I should ever hear you mention my name, the name of Bennet or the name of Jennings ever again, you, madam, will regret it. Do not treat this as an idle threat; I have the means and ability to do it.”

Mrs. Younge turned her back and began walking down the street. She had not enough money to hire a hack and it was a long way back to the boarding house. She had been so close! George would be furious without doubt, but some things could not be foreseen. Had she not sought to flatter Darcy more, she would have been safely within the carriage and unseen by that Bennet girl. How would they make their fortune now?

Watching Mrs. Younge walk away, Darcy remembered his duty. “Mrs. Jennings, Miss Bennet, please allow me to thank you on behalf of not only myself, but my sister too.”

Mrs. Jennings patted Darcy on his cheek and then pinched his chin. “You are such a good lad Darcy! How is dear Miss Darcy?”

Elizabeth caught Mr. Darcy’s eye but for a moment. She rolled her eyes heavenwards and he had to fight an unfamiliar impulse to do the same. Darcy recognized that this girl could very easily come to have great power over him. He needed to steel himself against that possibility.

Seeing his discomfort at being man-handled by Mrs. Jennings, Elizabeth felt great empathy for the man and sought to alleviate his discomfort.

Elizabeth smiled at Darcy and gave him a wink. Darcy blushed at such a gesture and thought she might be overtly flirting with him, which he wasn’t sure he’d mind too much, until she spoke. “Mrs. Jennings? Will we not miss tea if we continue to tarry on the street? I am sure that Mr. Darcy must have other business to attend to.”

This girl would surely bewitch him if he didn’t take care. This was his last thought before his mouth betrayed him by saying with his very next breath, “Rather than throw your house into chaos, Mrs. Jennings, would you consider taking tea here this afternoon? Georgiana is within and rather than rely on my report of her welfare, you could see for yourself how she fares.”

Elizabeth could see Mrs. Jennings was brimming with glee from the invitation, but Elizabeth was loathe to impose upon them and she said so. “Mr. Darcy, we would hate to intrude on your time with your sister. You’ve just had a narrow escape and I think that you most likely will need to start your search over again.”

Darcy was mesmerized by the twinkle in her eyes. There was a mirth that she tried to keep hidden there and he was quite certain he could be content to watch her eyes dance in such a way for the rest of his life. He chastised himself for being distracted again but issued his invitation once more. “I assure you Miss Bennet, it would be no intrusion. We’ve only just arrived in Town and none of my sister’s friends are here yet and she’s been complaining loudly that an elder brother makes for very poor company. I would consider it a very great favor if you would come.”

Mrs. Jennings had never seen such a sight in all her life. Why had she never thought of this before? She smiled as she watched Elizabeth blush at his insistence. This could be a very good match indeed!

Elizabeth said with an uncharacteristic quietness, “Mr. Darcy, you are all politeness.”

Darcy reddened again. Mrs. Jennings saved him from having to say anything by taking his arm and saying, “Darcy, my dear boy, we’d love to come in for tea.”

***New as of 6/14/2011!!!***

Chapter Two: Tea for two, three or four?

Elizabeth was pleasantly surprised as she entered the townhome on Darcy’s arm. She had accompanied Mrs. Jennings on many morning visits over the last few days and had grown tired of pretending to be impressed with ostentatious displays which were designed solely to impart status and wealth. Mr. Darcy’s home, while appearing quite stately, had no extra fripperies or nonsense about it at all. The rooms they could see appeared richly furnished, but in an elegantly understated way that felt comfortable and not at all pretentious. Elizabeth found herself wondering if the home was a reflection of the handsome man beside her, but then she thought such a notion was ridiculous as he most likely either inherited it as it stood or, more likely, he had someone decorate it for him.

As he opened the door to the morning parlor, he smiled and said, “Mrs. Jennings, I am sure you remember this room.”

“Oh, Darcy, my dear, sweet boy, ‘tis still such a beautiful room! Your mother believed this room was as close to the perfection of Pemberley as she could achieve in London. Lizzy, is this not the sweetest room you have ever seen?”

In awe of her surroundings, Elizabeth managed to find her voice at last. “I find I must agree with you, Mrs. Jennings, I have never before seen a room quite like this!”

Darcy was pleased by her reaction. Most callers, at least the feminine ones, seemed to add up the cost of furnishings as though they were in a museum rather than a home. Miss Bennet looked around with wonder in her eyes at all she saw and, all at once, Darcy knew this girl was not a mercenary social-climber. Darcy was watching Elizabeth with such keen interest that, for a moment, he had forgotten his manners. “Please, won’t you make yourselves comfortable while I go and fetch my sister Georgiana?”

Mrs. Jennings, always wise, noted Darcy’s distraction and helped him by saying, “You go ahead and do that my dear boy. I shall keep Miss Lizzy occupied by telling her of this room’s history in your absence.”

With a small bow and a smile, Darcy bid his temporary good-byes as he excused himself to go and retrieve his sister. As he left the room, Elizabeth’s eyes remained fixed on the doorway until Mrs. Jennings drew her attention by asking, “What do you think, Miss Lizzy?”

She had often been chastised by her mama for not attending conversations as she ought, and while most of her mother’s criticisms could be discarded as unduly harsh, this was one she well-knew she was guilty of; for even her beloved Aunt Gardiner had called her on it many times in the last few weeks. ‘A proper lady always attends’ her dear Aunt was fond of saying. And as the entire goal of any gently-bred girl was to be a proper lady, Elizabeth would need to do better.

“I am sorry Mrs. Jennings, but I must confess I was not attending… pray excuse me for my absent-mindedness.”

Smiling because she saw so very much of herself in her young charge, she repeated, “I simply asked what think you?”

Elizabeth’s first thoughts turned to the handsome young man who had flustered her so. Surely Mrs. Jennings was not asking her about him? She blushed at the very notion! No, she was, of course, being asked her opinion on this very fine, if unusual, room. When she felt the heat begin to leave her cheeks, she answered, “I could not have imagined such a room could exist!”

“There is truth in what you say, Miss Lizzy. Lady Anne, that’s Fitzwilliam’s mother- Mrs. Darcy, had a penchant for rambling in the woods, not unlike you, and since true peacefulness is difficult to come by in London, they had the house redone to accommodate Lady Anne’s love of nature into the house. See how we are surrounded by the glass panels? This clever design allows all the enjoyment of a conservatory, but none of the stuffiness or excessive humidity. And see there? Accommodations were made to the upper floors so that sunlight streams into this room all year long.”

Mrs. Jennings further explained how, in the latter years of his mother’s life, Lady Anne’s health had begun to fail and traipsing about out-of-doors to enjoy the wonders of nature had become nearly impossible. Old Mr. Darcy had hired John Nash to design a way to bring the feel of a conservatory into the practicality of a sitting room. Mr. Nash consulted with Mr. Repton and together designed the glorious room in which they stood now.

Elizabeth, who was now wandering along the walls, viewing the surrounding flora and fauna, said with near breathless enthusiasm, “This is truly magnificent!”

“Thank you,” replied Darcy as he escorted his sister into the room. “My father, as I’m sure Mrs. Jennings has already reported, had this room especially designed for my mother. Aside from the library, it is my favorite room in this house.”

His tone when he spoke was full of warmth and admiration for his parents. Elizabeth was saddened by the realization that although she loved her parents and was her own father’s acknowledged favourite, she could not speak with equal affection for her own.

Mrs. Francis, or Fanny, Bennet made it the first order of her life to see her girls all well-married to avoid the poverty that would surely come should something happen to Mr. Bennet. The Bennet’s estate of Longbourn was, unfortunately like many estates, entailed to follow the male line. Mr. Thomas Bennet tried desperately and often to not be the last male member of the Bennet family and as a result, along with his wife, he had welcomed five daughters into the world. Since it had been just over thirteen years since the youngest Bennet daughter, Miss Lydia, had been born, the Bennets were resigned to the eventuality that their beloved estate would someday, hopefully in the long-distant future, devolve to a distant cousin from the Collins family. Due to a circumstance long forgotten, the Bennets and Collinses had held great animosity between their families which is why Fanny Bennet’s greatest fear was to be tossed into the hedgerows upon her husband’s demise.

If the chief of Mrs. Bennet’s time was spent pushing her daughters into the marriage mart, it could be said that Mr. Bennet’s time was mainly occupied with making sport of his neighbors. Though Elizabeth had little in common with her mother, she was definitely her father’s protégé. While her sisters whiled away their free time trimming bonnets, covering screens and working on other such useless decorations, Elizabeth preferred studying satire, philosophy, politics and history with her dearest Papa. She had her father’s dry, acerbic sense of humor and at assemblies the pair could often be found holed up in a corner making observations of the follies and foibles of all those in attendance. Her Papa had also taught her how the estate ran, just as he would have a son, as well as how best to deal with business so as not to come out on the short end of things. Though Elizabeth greatly respected her father’s abilities, as she grew older, she also saw his deficiencies and short-comings.

Mr. Bennet, like all scholars, knew how to do things in principle if not in practice. He preferred the path of least resistance in his home-life and so never sought to reign in his boisterous wife who over-spent their income. He never checked her when she became over-exuberant in company, often embarrassing herself and her family. As the girls grew and no more children, especially the long-awaited heir, came, he never thought to seek ways to make Longbourn more profitable or find other ways to invest for the future. Through both his proclivity to be idle and unwillingness to sacrifice his own comfort, the Bennet girls were all caught in the unfortunate position of being near-dowerless and with no true protection. As much as Elizabeth loved her father, her respect for him as both guardian and protector had diminished over the last few years.

Though Mr. Darcy was very clearly still a young man, it crossed Elizabeth’s mind that he seemed to know very well who he was. It was obvious that he took his responsibilities very seriously and she could not imagine the man who stood before her now would ever feel a need to scramble because he had not done his duty and behaved in a responsible manner! Seeing the loving care Darcy took with his sister made Elizabeth feel just the slightest tinge of… was it possible? Jealousy? Not of the girl herself- for that would be quite foolish- but of the idea that someone could care about another so selflessly, love so completely, that their concerns would be paramount above all else was so strange!

Elizabeth realized that the silence had ensued too long. Looking to Mrs. Jennings for some assistance, she found that lady grinning at her in a most infuriating manner. Realizing that she was on her own, Elizabeth spoke at last, “I can well believe this room must be a great favorite, Mr. Darcy. I must also confess I, too, have a great fondness for libraries.”

The young girl beside Darcy gasped which in turn caused him to smile. “See, Georgiana? It is exactly as I told you just yesterday. Confessing that you have a penchant for reading does not have to equate with being a Bluestocking. Does Miss Bennet here appear in any way to be the severe sort of woman you are so worried about being perceived as?”

Miss Darcy shyly shook her head and in a quiet voice whispered, “No, Brother.”

“Indeed not!” Darcy agreed with a chuckle. “Miss Bennet? If I may…” Elizabeth nodded to allow the introduction. “Miss Bennet, this is my sister Georgiana Darcy. Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet, whom I understand hails from Hertfordshire.”

Georgiana, despite her shyness in company, managed to stammer, “I am pleased to meet you Miss Bennet. And it is always very nice, of course, to see you, Mrs. Jennings.”

“Oh, my Georgie-porgie! You are growing more beautiful with each day! Darcy my boy, is your sister not the spitting image of your mother? Lizzy, rarely will you see such perfect copies of a past generation. Darcy here is the very picture of his father at this age- you are six-and-twenty, yes?”

“Not quite yet. August will see me six-and-twenty, while June will see Georgie turn fourteen.”

“Ah, I see. Perhaps Miss Georgie would be better suited to another year in school rather than starting life with a companion. You surely do not intend for her to be out just yet, do you, Fitzwilliam?”

Few people ever called Darcy by his given name and Mrs. Jennings, by way of her long-standing association with his family, was one of them. Really preferring to be called simply Darcy, he sighed and answered, “Of course she will not be out yet! That is at least two, possibly three or four, seasons away!”

“I thought as much. I understand that as a bachelor, you have likely reached the end of what you can teach her. Without a woman around to teach her the more feminine accomplishments, I truly believe she might feel more comfortable in a school with her peers where she could learn these necessities and make some new friends.”

“Really? You truly think such an action would be for the best? What think you, Georgie?”

“I… I am unsure, Brother. I would not know anyone and would miss you so dreadfully. What do you think Miss Bennet? Is it so very important that I can stitch a sampler or cover a screen?”

Elizabeth had been watching the scene unfold and found she agreed with Mrs. Jennings. “Not so very important Miss Darcy, but yes, every gently-bred woman must have at least some accomplishments. Several languages, a bit of drawing, some needlework and the ability to keep up her end of a conversation in a drawing room. These are all things that have become paramount, ridiculous as they may seem.”

Mrs. Jennings was unsurprised, Georgiana a bit scandalized while Darcy was greatly amused by this slight outburst.

Darcy commented first. “Ridiculous? How so? That is, if you do not mind explaining.”

Elizabeth looked to Mrs. Jennings first for approval, which was silently given, and then proceeded to explain her thoughts on the absurdities of accomplishments.

“Well, first there’s the issue with studying languages. A lady cannot be truly esteemed as accomplished if she does not at least count some knowledge of speaking French or Italian alongside English; however, if you make a study of Latin, which is the basis for so many languages, then you are too learned. We study needlework to make what? Decorative things. Does a handkerchief really need intricate initials and flowers sewn upon it? Would not a better use of effort and time to sew something that may be of actual use? Of course not! For, to sew something of actual usage would be too much like trade and that would simply never do!”

Darcy wished to laugh, but thought better of it and asked instead, “Miss Bennet, is this not a somewhat cynical view of things at your age?”

“At my age? Mr. Darcy, I fear that, yes, it probably is a bit cynical, but I must speak as I find. Some accomplishments are fine and have their uses. Music is worthy enough and provides its own merits, the very least of which is an enjoyment of the music itself. But truly, no lady actually enjoys needlework. It is all so much nonsense that mothers make their daughters learn what is tantamount to a trade that they would never allow their daughters to actually enter. If I had a natural talent for sewing, should I be a seamstress? If I have a talent for making pies, should I be a baker? I do not see the point in all this. It seems to be a most dishonest way to cast about for a husband.”

Darcy was highly amused and could not help but smile. “Cast about? Are you angling then for a husband?”

Elizabeth was pleased that he hadn’t seemed offended and pressed her luck further still by answering honestly. “A husband? No, I must confess I am not. However, hand me some tackle and a pole and I will in turn hand you a nice trout.”

Mrs. Jennings guffawed, “Now there’s an accomplishment for you, Fitzwilliam!”

Georgiana was astonished. Her very proper, very dour brother was conversing easily with this outspoken girl and what was more he even seemed to be enjoying himself! She wished to join in the banter, but did not feel equal to the wit that was being so boldly displayed by all parties. Instead, she kept quiet observation and began to hope that someday her brother would marry a woman like Miss Elizabeth so she could have the sister she always desired at last.

Mrs. Jennings and Elizabeth stayed another hour with the Darcys and in that time they canvassed everything from where the best bookshops were to the latest goings-on in the House of Lords. Both parties found they were pleased with the company and before Mrs. Jennings and Elizabeth left, it was decided that they would attend the new production of Shakespeare’s Henry V the next evening. Mrs. Jennings and Elizabeth would join the Darcys in their box as Mrs. Jenning’s step-daughter’s family would be in her family’s box for that performance.

Darcy walked them to the door. “Thank you, once again, for alerting me to Mrs. Young’s character. I cannot imagine what would happen to my poor, impressionable sister under that creature’s care.”

“It was really nothing, Sir,” Elizabeth blushed. “I would imagine that if faced with similar circumstances, you would be gentleman enough to alert others to unknown dangers if you knew some rogue was loose amongst the unsuspecting populace.”

“I would certainly hope so!”

Mrs. Jennings patted his cheek and agreed, “Of course you would, Fitzwilliam. You are always such a good boy!”

Darcy suddenly found himself blushing and feeling like a boy of ten again. He protested, “Mrs. Jennings!”

“Oh tosh, Fitzwilliam! You are a fine, upstanding young man and if I, as someone who has known you all of your life, cannot sing your praises then pray tell me who should?”

Darcy caught Elizabeth’s eye as he rolled his and she smiled.

“I suppose no one, Mrs. Jennings, except, of course, you.”

Darcy walked with them out to the street and confirmed what time he and Georgiana would call on them the next evening. He watched the ladies make their way several doors. Darcy did not move until he saw them enter Mrs. Jenning’s home. As he returned inside, Darcy smiled as he realized how pleasant it had been to catch up with his Godmother. He decided he had neglected her company for far too long and, as his near neighbor and close friend of the family, he needed to strengthen his relationship with her house.
Chapter Three: Once More unto the Breach, Dear Friends

Friday Afternoon- Litchfield House, Brook Street, Mayfair

Elizabeth, who was afraid of very little, found herself terrified.

Mrs. Jennings had been quiet. While most women, at least on occasion, can be found in moments of quiet introspection, Mrs. Jenning’s loquacious manner never led to such moments of peace and Elizabeth was ill-prepared to deal with the lady’s silence.

They had been home from their visit with the Darcys for two hours and Elizabeth found herself unable to concentrate on the tea towel she had been working. Elizabeth could no longer wait for Mrs. Jenning’s inquisition and begged to be excused to her room.

Mrs. Jennings could see Elizabeth was disconcerted and said, “Miss Lizzy, of course you may go, but first will you please satisfy me and tell me what you thought of my Godson?”

Elizabeth was trying her best not to think of Darcy. “He seems to be a nice, gentlemanly sort of man.”

“Tosh! I think we may need to see a physician and have your eyes examined for spectacles! My Godson is one of the handsomest men in Town and if you could not see that, then you must be going quite blind, my dear girl.”

With a deep breath, Elizabeth bowed her head to say, “Of course I noticed that, Mrs. Jennings. But what would you have me say? I am sure that a man such as Mr. Darcy would find a country hoyden such as me much too low for his notice.”

Mrs. Jennings now stood and lifted Elizabeth’s chin and smiled. “You, my dearest Lizzy, are not too low for anyone’s notice. That is your mother talking and I will not have it! He is a gentleman; that is true. But you, my dear, dear Elizabeth, are a gentleman’s daughter and that makes you equal.”

Elizabeth shook her head in disagreement. “What of fortune? What of position in society? Surely these things count a great deal, do they not? Perhaps I should just go home to Longbourne and await one of the Long boys to come home. If Jane, who is quite ten times prettier than I, and so sweet of temper, could not find a match, then how can I ever hope to? I thank you for offering me a season, but, truly, I think it would be for the best if I just went home.”

“Elizabeth Bennet! You will stop this ridiculous foolishness at once! You are a beautiful, lively, witty and accomplished young woman. You are a gentleman’s daughter and come from a long-established and respected, though perhaps not grand, family. I guarantee that once you get it through that stubborn head of yours that you are by no means some inferior, unworthy creature, that you will have a wonderful season. I could throttle that mother of yours for this foolish nonsense! You have never given much credit to anything she has ever said before, and for my life I cannot fathom why you do so now! Your father has done a marvelous job with your education and I would wager that all the young men will be at least as tongue-tied as Darcy was today.”

“Mr. Darcy was tongue-tied?” was all Elizabeth could say.

“Quite so my dear!” Mrs. Jennings confirmed. “I think our dear boy was pleasantly disconcerted by you.”

Elizabeth, embarrassed that she had been unable to keep control of her tongue in the presence of so great a gentleman, said, “I must own I find that very hard to believe, Mrs. Jennings.”

The elder woman patted Elizabeth’s hand and said gently, “That, my dear girl, does not make it any less the truth.” Elizabeth nodded that she understood and Mrs. Jennings, smiling broadly, then said conspiratorially, “Now, what say we explore the trunks upstairs and see if we can find a proper gown for you to wear to the theater tomorrow?”

Elizabeth, knowing full well the futility of trying to resist Mrs. Jennings, gave in and followed quietly.

 

Saturday afternoon- Darcy House, Brook Street, Mayfair

Darcy could not recall ever being in such a state of nervous agitation, and could not account for why he was in such a state now. He had spent the early portion of the morning going over correspondence with his secretary, he had lunch with his friends at his club, he had met his cousin at Angelo’s for some exercise; in short, the day had not been different than any other. Feeling uneasy with his agitated mind, he decided to seek out his sister. She was not in her rooms, nor was she in the music room, the library or the garden. He then recalled she had very lately taken to sitting in their mother’s parlor and so he sought her there.

When he reached his mother’s favorite room, he found Georgiana seated quietly, working on a sampler. He watched her work her needle for a moment before she took notice of him and brightly said, “Good afternoon, Brother. I trust you had a pleasant time beating Geoffrey?”

He smiled. “I did, thank you. Geoff, though he may be formidable on a field of battle, is astonishingly easy to beat in a gymnasium.”

“Perhaps he lets you win.”

“Never.” Darcy laughed, “Our cousin has still never forgiven me for being a better swordsman.”

Georgiana set her needlework down, motioned for him to sit, and poured her brother a cup of tea which he gladly accepted. “Perhaps he has yet to forgive you because you are also a superior horseman, chess player and a significantly better shot than he.”

He laughed at his sister’s catalogue of his skills, but teasingly added, “You forgot to mention my uncommonly good angling skills.”

“I daresay that our dear Lieutenant Colonel is only half-joking when he says that you would have been better suited to being a younger son.”

It was his cousin’s favorite taunt and Darcy had given it much consideration over the years. “Ah, but let us not forget the reason I was able to develop these skills was precisely because I was not a younger son. Had I needed to take up a profession, besides managing the estate, I would likely be in the same state as Geoff. Geoff, by the way, is no longer to be referred to as your ‘dear Lieutenant Colonel’.”

Georgiana’s face lit up. “No? Has he resigned his commission? Is he now safe?”

Darcy chastised himself for having inadvertently led her to the wrong conclusion. “No, my pet, I am afraid he has not. In fact, while it is good news for him, I am sad to say it is quite the opposite. Geoff has been made Colonel, and is very shortly to leave us for Cadiz.”

Her hand flew to her mouth as she gasped, “He cannot! He will be killed!”

“There is a great need for soldiers in Spain at present, or so I’m told. Things are not going as easy as was hoped. However, as I have heard him say many times, ‘only the good die young’, I expect our scoundrel cousin will most likely outlive us all. If you like, you may ask him all about it when he comes with us to the theater tonight.”

She had asked repeatedly yesterday for permission to attend, but as Darcy had been reluctant to grant it, his statement took her pleasantly by surprise.

“I may go?”

“Yes, Georgiana, you may go. Geoff is coming along with us and Phillip has been invited as well, though I expect the Earl has other plans for him this evening.”

“Not that horrid Lady Abernathy, I hope!”

“Sadly, yes. It seems that our wastrel cousin, the Viscount, has once more overspent his allowance and our good Uncle has decided he needs to learn a lesson. I believe spending time in Lady Abernathy’s tedious company will teach Phillip the merits of staying within his means, if only to not be forced to march down the aisle with such a woman.”

“Fitzwilliam!” Georgiana was shocked. Her brother had never before spoken in such free manner with her before.

Realizing that he had said too much as regards family matters that really did not concern his sister, he apologized. “I am sorry, Georgiana. Please, forgive me. I know not what has gotten into me today.”

“There is nothing to forgive, Brother. I was only taken aback that you would speak to me about such things. I know that I am still very young, but is it not time that you show me what one should look for and what to avoid in a marriage partner?”

The thought of his thirteen-year-old sister even giving a fleeting thought to marriage was enough to make Darcy’s head ache. “I believe we are safe from the topic of marriage where you are concerned for a few years yet at least, my pet.”

Georgiana shook her head at her dear brother’s obtuseness. “I know that, Fitzwilliam! I meant that is it not time you began to consider marriage?”

“Marriage?” Darcy nearly choked on his tea. “I think not. I yet have plenty of time before I must think of marriage.”

Georgiana crossed her arms defiantly and stated, “You need an heir and I need a sister. Is that not reason enough to at least warrant some consideration?”

“Oh, I see.” Darcy smiled at his sister as he began to tease her, “This is not about my need, in the far away and distant future, for an heir; this is about your wanting a sister to squire you about Town so that your stodgy old brother needn’t take you to the shops. If I did not know better, I might begin to think that you did not wish for my company any longer.”

“That is not true!” Georgiana protested.

“No,” Darcy clutched one hand to his chest while he held the other up in protest. “It is too late, the damage is done. You have wounded my finer feelings, madam, by making your own feelings so clearly known. I never thought the day would come when my own sister would cast me off like a care-worn cloak!”

Georgiana had never witnessed her brother behave so lively before. “Who are you, good sir? You look suspiciously like Fitzwilliam Darcy, but you cannot be he.”

He smiled. “I must own it, Georgiana, I am he.”

“You are in unusually good humour today.”

“I suppose I am. Very strange, for I admit that I truly feel a bit out of sorts today. In fact, there was a moment when Geoff very nearly had a parry that I almost could not counter.”

“Perish the thought!” Georgiana was barely able to speak for laughing. Once she was over her fit of giggles, she regarded her brother thoughtfully, then said, “I believe you are right, Brother. You do seem different. You seem happier somehow.”

Darcy was surprised by her assertion. “Do I?”

Georgiana nodded. “You do, indeed. And I believe I know why.”

“Pray, tell me, o wise one, what you believe is the cause of my good humour.”

She smiled brightly and said, “I believe someone is looking forward to the theater tonight.”

“Yes, but then you know that Henry V is a personal favorite of mine.”

“Of course it is,” she agreed, then needled him further, trying to make him admit a preference for the pretty Miss Bennet, “but I wonder if maybe you are highly anticipating certain company we shall keep this evening. Someone other than Mrs. Jennings.”

Flustered, Darcy admonished his sister. “Georgiana, while I will admit I am looking forward to seeing our neighbor and her young charge, you need to stop this line of thinking right now. There is nothing between Miss Bennet and I. She is a lovely young woman, but that is all. Perhaps it might be best if you stay home this evening after all.”

“Brother, please, I so wish to go this evening! I swear I’ll not tease you any longer on the matter, even though Miss Bennet is the first lady I’ve ever seen that has made you laugh so.”

“She did make me smile, that is true. But Georgiana, surely you must understand that there is much more to a marriage than that? I only met the girl yesterday. An hour of conversation is hardly enough to determine whether any woman would be worthy.”

Georgiana apologized, “I am sorry, Brother, I only wish for you to be happy. May I speak freely?”

He nodded. “You may.”

“I only hope, it is really my fondest wish, that when you do finally choose a wife, that you make your choice with your own happiness in mind most of all. I am not as ignorant as Mr. Bingley’s sister would believe. I see her motives when she and Mrs. Hurst come here with their brother. I see our Aunt pressing you more and more each year to make an offer for our cousin. I see and hear things when you take me out to the shops. Those women do not want you! They only want the things you can give them, the things that would come with marriage to you. I know that most marriages are little more business deals, but I want you to have more than that!” Georgiana had made her plea with such passion that, when she was finished, she had to wipe tears away from her eyes.

“Georgiana, I had no idea you were so observant, or that you held such deep feeling on this matter.” Darcy was touched by his sister’s compassion for him. “It is true that the most brilliant matches, at least according to the Ton, are ones made with position and fortune in mind. You are also right about Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine as well. I promise that I will not allow myself to be subjected to their machinations. Will that satisfy you?”

She nodded and tried to give him a smile. “It will.”

As Georgiana once again took up her needlework, Darcy was struck by a thought. “Peahen, what makes you assume that Miss Bennet is any different than, say, Miss Bingley?”

His sister blushed. “Miss Bennet did not seek to bring the conversation around to the subject of you with every other sentence. Most of the ladies that speak with me only seem to do so to seek information about you.” Georgiana was warming to the subject of Elizabeth’s merits. “She also seems to be well-informed and unafraid to speak her mind. Most ladies who call spend the chief of their time trying to court your good opinion rather than dare express one of their own. Miss Bennet was very kind to me and did not seem to expect anything on return for her notice, very unlike Miss Bingley. I think, Brother, I have found Miss Bennet to be perhaps the most wonderful lady I have ever met,”

“She certainly seems to be delightfully original, does she not?”

Georgiana agreed and began quizzing her brother on what the plans were for the evening. It was decided that after the theater, if Mrs. Jennings and Miss Bennet had no objections, they would sup at Darcy House after the play. Georgiana was encouraged to take an afternoon rest, for the night would be long. When Georgiana left for her chambers, Darcy headed to the library to seek a copy of Henry V. He thumbed through the slim volume and decided he would bring it along. Darcy began to look forward to the intermissions, as he could imagine discussing the finer points of his favorite history with a young miss with the most expressive eyes he’d ever seen. It was when he started to ponder what color waistcoat he should wear that he first sensed he might be in trouble.

But oh! What wonderful trouble it was!

Saturday Evening- Litchfield House, Brook Street, Mayfair

Mrs. Jennings was alerted that Mr. Darcy was waiting for them in the front parlour. When she arrived, she found him pacing back and forth, much like the caged lions found at the Tower Menagerie. He appeared nervous and nothing could have delighted Mrs. Jennings more.

She crossed the room to meet Darcy and said, “Good evening, Fitzwilliam. Are you ready for this evening’s performance?”

He bowed over her hand and replied, “I believe we are ready as we shall ever be. ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.’”

Mrs. Jennings smiled at her shy Godson. She imagined that quote was likely a favourite of his. “It has always amazed me how attending events amongst society feels very much like preparing to go into battle.” She saw the look in his eyes which confirmed her suspicions. “You are not alone in tonight’s siege, my dear boy, please remember that.”

“For you, I will do my best.” He smiled, knowing that he was safe from the matchmaking mamas tonight. Mrs. Jennings would not let them anywhere near, for she tolerated them even less than Darcy.

She pinched his chin and smiled. “I will then say to you, ‘On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
’ I promise, Fitzwilliam, that you, like Good King Henry before you, will survive this day.”

“If I were not truly terrified of large crowds, as you well know, I would take umbrage that you were impugning my manhood. As it is, I very much do feel like we are heading into battle this evening. Only the assurance of your company, and that of your charge’s, could possibly entice me out of my castle this evening.” As Darcy spoke, his eyes kept returning to the entryway, hoping for Elizabeth’s appearance.

Mrs. Jennings made note of this, but wisely chose to say nothing on that topic. Instead, she said, “Not leave your castle? Not even with a military escort? That reminds me, where is the dashing Colonel this evening? I believe your note said that he was to accompany us this evening.”

“My cousin has gone ahead with my sister and will meet us at the theater. Had you given any thought to joining us for supper this evening? I understand the notice was short, but Georgiana and I do hope you will come.”

“We’d be happy to dine with you, Fitzwilliam. Now, if you will please excuse me for a moment, I shall see what is keeping Elizabeth.” Just before she took her leave, she took Darcy’s hand. “Come with me, my boy, there’s no reason to leave you in here. After all, you are practically a member of the family!”

Dutifully, Darcy followed Mrs. Jennings towards the grand staircase. He waited at the bottom while she disappeared upstairs. Looking around, it occurred to him that he hadn’t been in this part of Litchfield House since he was a small lad. He distinctly recalled being scolded for trying to see if his head would fit through the balusters. He chuckled at the memory as he recalled how that escapade had made the normally placid Mr. Jennings greatly upset. “You could very well strangle yourself, Master Darcy, and then what would happen? Your father would call me out and, of course, we’d shoot each other until we were both dead. This, of course, would cause our wives to immediately die of heartache and then there would be five people gone from this earth! And all because you wished to see if your head would fit through the railings! It is a very high price to pay for curiosity, is it not?” Darcy smiled. He had often warned Georgiana in exactly the same manner about the dangers of being overly curious.

Mrs. Jennings, upon her return, noted the odd smile on his face and was curious about its origins. “What has you smiling so, Fitzwilliam? A fond memory perhaps, or were you just woolgathering?”

He had not realized how much he had missed the presence of the Jennings in his life until just then. His uncle, the Earl of __, was a good, but exceedingly busy man. Politics and his many holdings kept him often from home. The Earl had no time to spend with his nephew when there was little enough time for him to try to shape his erstwhile cousin the Viscount __ into a responsible man. His aunt was similarly occupied with her own daughters and their entry into society. His other maternal relation, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, was a harridan of the worst sort. Since the death of his father, Lady Catherine had been insisting on Darcy engaging himself to his sickly cousin Anne. Darcy would rather burn Pemberley to the ground than let Lady Catherine get her hands on it and turn it into a Rosings of the North. His Darcy relations, the few that remained, were much elder and scattered across the land. Darcy and Georgiana had been very much alone and could have used the sort of familial support and unconditional love that his Godmother offered.

He nodded to the staircase. “I was just remembering Mr. Jennings. He was a very fine man.”

Mrs. Jennings smiled knowingly. She smoothed a curl from his forehead, just as his mother used to, and said, “I think your head is too large now, thankfully, to fit through the railings now. All those brains, you know.”

He blushed at her motherly attentions and as he turned away from Mrs. Jenning’s hand, he caught a glimpse of Elizabeth. She was descending the stairs in her new gown and as soon as Elizabeth saw she had an audience, she bashfully halted her progress.

Mrs. Jennings could see that Elizabeth was unsure of herself. Mrs. Bennet had no idea how lucky she was to be safely away in Hertfordshire. She encouraged the girl as best she could. “You look beautiful, Elizabeth. None of that, my dearie, you cannot attend the theater from the stairs. Down you come!”

Darcy would lay awake long after his guests left that night, thinking of all the things he should have said. He would think of any number of charming compliments to express his adoration for Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her beauty. However, the words wouldn’t come for many hours yet to come. However, at this moment, when he needed the words, he was speechless.

Elizabeth, growing up in the shadow of her eldest sister Jane, knew she was not a great beauty. She was a bit too short, her hips too round, her bosom too large, her hair too unruly, her smile too wide and everything else just slightly out of what was considered fashionable. These last days with Mrs. Jennings had done much good in undoing the belittling that Mrs. Bennet was wont to do to her least favorite daughter. Mrs. Jennings was constantly reminding Elizabeth that she was so much more than her mother could imagine. When Mrs. Jennings had taken her shopping for new gowns, it was the first time she ever recalled actually enjoying the activity. It had been something of a revelation to have a modiste’s undivided attention and have her own opinion count, for once.

The reason Elizabeth froze on the stairs was, for all her boldness, she wasn’t accustomed to standing out. She was much more comfortable with blending into the background and being able to observe the world around her, gathering fodder to make sport of those around her when she was closeted up with her father. She had, of course, attended assemblies and family parties often in her neighborhood, but the society was rather confined and everyone knew one another. The young men in the area firmly remembered Elizabeth as the Bennet brat who was a tomboy. It mattered not that she had grown up, for the fact of the matter was, they had not. An intelligent girl such as Elizabeth could only be happy, truly happy, seeing the world and all its myriad offerings with her own eyes. The Longs, the Lucases and Gouldings would all be content to stay their whole lives in Meryton, but Elizabeth, though she did not yet know it, needed more. This was why Mrs. Jennings had been insistent about Elizabeth having a Season. Had Mrs. Jennings lived her whole live in the village where she’d grown up, she would now be a Bedlamite and she suspected her namesake would be just the same.

Elizabeth glanced down again at her emerald green gown and hoped she’d chosen well. With a fortifying deep breath to steel her nerves, she stood tall like Mrs. Jennings had taught and finished descending the stairs. For the first time, she was able to spare a glance at Mr. Darcy. She had glimpsed him when she was on the stairs, but knew if she looked at him then, she would have gone off-balance, tripped and broke her neck. Now that she was safely downstairs, she could breathe again and take a minute to fully appreciate Mr. Darcy in his evening attire. She had thought him handsome yesterday, but that was nothing compared to how he captured her attention now. When Elizabeth realized she was openly staring at him, she chastised herself for acting no better than her sisters Kitty and Lydia. What she failed to notice was that Mr. Darcy was openly staring back at her.

Words had never been Darcy’s friend.  He swallowed hard and tried to speak, to say something of intelligence, but only managed to cobble together, “You look very nice, Miss Bennet.”

Elizabeth, unused to the direct attentions of any man, let alone a man such as Darcy, saw nothing wrong with such a simple declaration and she blushed accordingly. Mrs. Jennings watched with great amusement while making a mental note to speak with Darcy, and soon.

Darcy offered an arm first to Elizabeth, then to Mrs. Jennings. Mrs. Jennings forgave him this slight, seeing that he was completely smitten with Elizabeth. He escorted the ladies out to his waiting carriage. As they drove off, Darcy enquired whether or not Elizabeth was familiar with this particular play, knowing very well that Ladies preferred the romance of the tragedies and comedies. Elizabeth, excited about seeing her favorite history performed, said all she needed to when she quoted, “Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

So, two new chapters, and by request! There are still 4 more hand-written chapters that need to be deciphered (I confess to owning Bingley-style penmanship!) and typed. Is it worth it? Is this something that you’d like to see more of? My muse was fully digging this plot today, but my muse is fickle and needs bribes. Just shout out either here with a comment or an email to meanderingsandmissives@gmail.com to tell my muse what you’d like.

 

****NEW****NEW****NEW****NEW****NEW****NEW****NEW****NEW****

NEW AS OF AUGUST 23, 2012

 

Chapter Four- Men of Few Words are the Best Men.

Saturday Evening- Royal Theatre, Covent Garden

Darcy barely managed to escort the ladies through the throng of people wishing to extend their greetings and garner a closer look at his companions for the evening. It was a well-known fact that Mrs. Jennings rarely attended the theater anymore and that she was doing so with the highly eligible Mr. Darcy and an unknown young lady was enough to set all the opera glasses of the curious upon the Darcy box.

Elizabeth was greeted warmly by Georgiana and introduced to the Darcy’s cousin, one Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Fitzwilliam. The Lt. Colonel was not nearly so handsome as his cousin, but he did posses an easy, unaffected manner that was entirely charming. It was further explained that the Lt. Colonel and Darcy were close like brothers and, given this new bit of information, Elizabeth liked him immediately. The Lt. Colonel was as talkative as Darcy was quiet and Elizabeth enjoyed watching Darcy dodge his cousin’s inquiries.

After Darcy and his cousin had covered the basics of polite conversation, the Lt. Colonel asked, “Darce, where on earth did you meet such a stunning creature?” Elizabeth knew she was hardly stunning and wondered what sort of game he was playing, for she was seated right next to Darcy and could easily hear every word that was being said.

Darcy was regretting having invited his cousin to join them. “I became acquainted with Miss Bennet yesterday, at my house, as I have already informed you.” This startled Elizabeth. She hadn’t expected him to be speaking to others about her. What could it portend?

Darcy refusing to be baited was spoiling all the Lt. Colonel’s fun. “Ah, yes, I remember now.” Now addressing Elizabeth directly, he said, “I believe you have made quite an impression on my impressionable cousins. Made quite the conquest out of them. Well done!”

“I have done no such thing! Mr. Darcy, please, you can vouch for me, can you not? Your cousin makes it sound as though I set out to gain your family’s notice and you must tell him it simply isn’t true!” Elizabeth’s regard for the Lt. Colonel was falling fast.

Georgiana surprised them all by speaking before Darcy could reply. “Miss Bennet, please disregard everything that Cousin Geoff says, for I can assure you that it is rarely the truth.”

Just as Darcy was about to gently reprimand his sister, the Lt. Colonel howled in laughter and assured his young cousin of his approval. “Oh, Darce! Whatever methods you have been using to guide our sweet Georgie, please see that you keep it up, man! This is exactly the sort of spirit she ought to have.”

Things settled down somewhat then, but the Lt. Colonel was determined to keep things as lively as he could with his absurd observations and intrusive questions. Elizabeth watched the Lt. Colonel try to pull responses out of his much quieter cousins, often with the aid of Mrs. Jennings, and she concluded that he was rather harmless, even if he was a bit of a flirt. She might have enjoyed the Lt. Colonel’s manner more if it hadn’t appeared to make Mr. Darcy so uncomfortable. As Mr. Darcy had been so kind to her, his cousin’s needling was almost unforgivable.

The play finally began and Elizabeth was entranced. She had been to Drury Lane once, when she was sixteen, with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, but those seats had been on the main floor. Elizabeth marveled at the advantage of view from the box. She would have thought that, logically, seats nearer the stage would provide a better experience, but she now found that was not true at all. Darcy’s box, in addition to being much more comfortable than an orchestra seat, was located in a prime spot, offering the very best views of the stage that the theater had to offer. The only disadvantage she could find was the distinct feeling she had of being on display.

Elizabeth was not the only member of the party who felt they were on exhibit. Darcy had noticed, and only because he was looking, that, even after the performance began, there were still altogether too many spy glasses trained on their box. Normally this would cause him no small amount of discomfort, but tonight was different. Tonight he felt proud and found himself sitting a little taller in his seat, instead of his normal habit -which consisted of shrugging and trying to become invisible. He was in attendance with his dear sister, his mostly respectable cousin, his Godmother and the most beautiful and guileless woman he had ever known. Tonight, for once, he did not care if the gossips tittered about him.

During the first intermission, instead of being of use to the ladies and bringing them refreshment, Darcy was required to stay behind while his cousin went. Many of Darcy’s casual acquaintances came by during the break to seek introductions to Darcy’s unknown companion. The longer Darcy was forced to watch these young men try to out-swagger each other in an effort to gain Elizabeth’s attention, the greener Darcy’s complexion grew until it was the exact shade of Elizabeth’s gown. When it was made known that the young lady was under the care of Mrs. Jennings, many of the young swains inwardly groused. While they may have stood a chance stealing her out from under Darcy, they knew they were no match for Mrs. Jennings. A few of the bolder young men dared to inquire when the lovely Miss Darcy would make her debut, only infuriating Darcy further. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the Lt. Colonel returned just in time for the curtain rise and the young bucks to go back to their own seats.

“Friends of yours, Darce?” teased the Lt. Colonel in a whisper. He could see his usually undisturbed cousin was anything but, and he believed he knew the reason.

Darcy’s reply was terse. “Decidedly not.”

“Ah, I see.” He so enjoyed needling his cousin. Taking care to speak so he would not be overheard, the Lt. Colonel said, “So, the Miss Bennet Appreciation Society has then added some new members to its ranks? I can see why. She’s a lovely girl, Darce.”

“Geoff…” Darcy warned.

“‘Tis my name,” grinned the Lt. Colonel.

“Must you plague me?” groaned Darcy.

“I must. We younger sons must have some form of amusement, and since I have not the coin for fine society diversions, I must make sport where I can. Come now, Darce, you must know that I am on your side.”

The men then fell silent and turned their attentions elsewhere: the Lt. Colonel to the stage, and Darcy to Miss Bennet. At the second intermission, the men offered to escort the ladies for a short walk to stretch their legs. As it was obvious that no one wished to be cornered by well-wishers, the ladies agreed. The Lt. Colonel, seeking to make mischief, offered his arm to Elizabeth before Darcy could do the same. Elizabeth, who would much rather have been on Darcy’s arm, offered an apologetic glance before taking the Lt. Colonel’s arm. Darcy was left with no choice but to escort Mrs. Jennings and Georgiana.

Out in the common area, they were met by a jovial-looking young man who appeared a good deal younger, in both looks and maturity, than Mr. Darcy. The young, blonde-haired, blue-eyed man was introduced as Mr. Charles Bingley. Mr. Bingley then introduced his party, which included his newly engaged eldest sister Louisa, Louisa’s fiancé Rupert Hurst and still another elder sister named Caroline. Miss Caroline, an elegant young lady who appeared closer in age to Mr. Darcy, made a great show of fawning over a very uncomfortable Georgiana and openly hinted that they were freely available after the evening’s entertainment. Elizabeth, not yet accustomed to finer society, found the woman vulgar in her blatant attempts to catch Mr. Darcy’s attention. She amused herself by noting the great similarities in solicitousness Miss Caroline possessed in common with Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth was certain the fine young lady would not be amused at all, and this thought caused a wide smile and a sparkle in her eyes.

Darcy, doing his best to dislodge himself from the grip Miss Caroline had upon his arm, was caught by the change in Miss Bennet’s countenance. His eyes followed her gaze and when it was clear her amusement was derived from the absurdity of Miss Caroline, Darcy smiled too. Elizabeth then did something that would forever put Darcy in her debt; she rescued Georgiana from Miss Caroline’s fawning. Light conversation continued amongst the group, with Miss Caroline unsubtly begging an invitation to Darcy House. Elizabeth and Darcy shared a knowing glance as they continued to listen to Miss Caroline’s extreme praise of all things related to the Darcys- from Darcy himself to the flora and fauna of Derbyshire, his home county. Elizabeth felt sympathy for him, for she was certain there were many more young misses who were also setting their caps for Mr. Darcy and she was positive she would not enjoy being so pointedly hunted. As she watched him deflect Miss Caroline’s many compliments, she was proud of him. It would be very easy to set her down or publicly censure her, and she knew many others would not hesitate to do so. Elizabeth instinctively knew Darcy would never say anything offensive to a lady, no matter how sorely he was tempted to. It just wasn’t in his nature.

Darcy and the Lt. Colonel made plans with Mr. Bingley to meet at their club the next afternoon. This was done only after making it very clear- for Miss Caroline’s benefit- that no one would be home for callers the next day. When it was time to head back to Darcy’s box, Miss Caroline again stated that the view from the Darcy box was infinitely superior to the Bingley’s but Mr. Bingley cut her off before her wit could run its full course, something for which all the members of Mr. Darcy’s party were highly thankful. While Elizabeth thought Mr. Bingley seemed a nice enough gentleman, she could not say the same of the others of his group. Miss Bingley was incessantly playing with the baubles about her wrist, but only after informing Mrs. Jennings that her dearest Hurst- a man who looked utterly miserable to be there- had spared no expense on them. Miss Caroline was no better, for she was so obvious in her intent that she seemed quite mercenary. Elizabeth, on the whole, could not regret it when they took their leave.

When Henry the V ended, Darcy was not pleased. The play had been very well done and the immediate company was very fine, but the rest of London was proving to be a great problem. It was steadily raining as the play ended, thus causing a great deal of congestion immediately outside and most of the theatre patrons to linger until either the weather let up or their carriage was directly out front. For a moment, Darcy weighed his options. They could turn back and wait in his box, they could brave the rain and make for the carriage, or they could just mill about with everyone else in the same predicament. Darcy gave each idea some thought. Since it would no doubt cause a great deal of gossip to hide in his box, Darcy was forced to rule it out. The rain was now coming down in sheets and even with their evening capes, should they try to leave, the ladies would surely get drenched and ruin their gowns. His mind, against his desire to remain under good regulation, briefly entertained a picture of a soaked-though Elizabeth. Darcy shook his head to clear the tantalizing, but sadly unhelpful, vision from his thoughts. Darcy closed his eyes for a moment to release his frustration which came from concluding the only choice was to stay in the lobby with everyone else.

It was clear to Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy was displeased with something that had just occurred and she prayed it had nothing to do with her or Mrs. Jennings. She had noted his discomfort whenever the crowd around them swelled and demanded attention. He was behaving very much like her sister Mary, but Mary was shy and Elizabeth did not believe such a thing could be possible about the worldly Mr. Darcy. Whatever the reason was for his unease, she wished to help in whatever way she could.

Mrs. Jennings and Georgiana were chatting with a friend of her daughter-in-laws, catching up on the latest news from Sussex. The Lt. Colonel was caught up in a discussion with some old friends about the course the war. With the other members of their party otherwise engaged, Elizabeth was free to observe Darcy unnoticed. His eyes were still closed, but now his jaw was clenched and he appeared to be steeling himself against some unseen adversary. Her heart swelled with admiration for the man who stood before her, striving to gain control over his emotions. He was fast becoming the ideal for which all other men would pale in comparison. However, as her heart swelled with admiration, her head began to ache. A man of such consequence would never see her as anything more than the temporary charge of his Godmother. Indeed, she believed in his eyes she would seem little better than a poor relation of Mrs. Jennings. She set aside her own disappointment of the circumstances in order to take action.

When Darcy finally managed to dispel the image of Elizabeth that he knew would haunt his dreams, he opened his eyes only to find her standing right before him, regarding his person with a most curious stare. Feeling somewhat self-conscious under the scrutiny of her gaze, he quietly asked, “Yes, Miss Bennet?”

The concern she felt for him was written there on her face for him to see, and it took his breath away. “Are you feeling well, sir? Mr. Darcy, truly, if you are not up to having company this evening, Mrs. Jennings and I can make our own way home. You needn’t worry about entertaining us for the sake of politeness, I understand very well the urgent need for solitude when society becomes too…” Elizabeth paused to think of a politic word to use. “Shall we say encroaching?”

He blinked in surprise. She had understood him! How had she understood him? No, he thought regretfully, she had not completely understood him and he was both grateful and saddened by that. He could not possibly explain to her that if he seemed unwell it was because he was having untoward thoughts about what he wished might happen if only they were alone in company. Still, he was very pleased that she had the insight to understand that he did not enjoy crowds. With every minute he spent in her company he seemed to find another new reason to admire her.

Encroaching is a very apt description, Miss Bennet. I thank you for your concern, but I can assure you, in this case it is unnecessary. Miss Bennet, I believe it is safe to say that you and I are well on our way to becoming friends, are we not?” She nodded timidly and he continued, “Then I shall share with you a secret that I must beg you to keep. I do not like great crowds and would much prefer to be at home amongst,” he paused to smile at her, willing her to understand him, “friends. If I seemed unwell just now, it was nothing more than a moment of dread that our continuance of this enjoyable evening must be delayed because of the weather and from having to endure this crush. Please, never think your company would be unwelcome, Miss Bennet. In fact, I daresay your company has done a remarkable amount of good.”

Elizabeth had already believed him the most handsome man she had ever laid eyes on, but then he smiled and she knew he must be the most handsome man in the world. He had given small imitations of a smile the day before and he had even laughed, but this smile lit the room, had dimples and was solely for her. Her heart danced until she heard what he said. Inwardly she sighed. Her company had been useful to him. Elizabeth supposed that being of service to him was better than nothing. He had spoken of a burgeoning friendship, but she would rather anything than have him be her friend simply out of gratitude. She stole a glance at Mrs. Jennings, willing her to turn around and see that she was needed. Unfortunately, that lady was still busy entertaining Georgiana and a small group that had gathered to hear stories of her step-children’s long ago antics.

Seeing that no help would come, she braved her fear and addressed Darcy directly. “Sir, I cannot imagine what I have done that could be counted remarkable. All I have done was point out the faulty character of that horrid woman, and that’s hardly worth mentioning. I am certain you would have discovered her villainy soon enough on your own. Please, Mr. Darcy, I do not wish for your or, for that matter, your sister’s gratitude.”

Darcy contracted his brow as he tried to reason why Elizabeth did not want his approbation. Since before he had even come of age, women had always sought, and actively courted, his good opinion. Now, for the first time, a woman had earned it freely, and she seemed to not want it, and even seemed pained by the very notion of it. This was not merely some lady playing the coquette, as many ladies of the Ton did. No, Elizabeth seemed steadfast in not wanting his gratitude. Were all women this difficult to understand? Or was it only Elizabeth Bennet? He was not sure, but he was determined to comprehend her, no matter what. How he wished he possessed an easy manner akin to his cousin, or even Bingley! Those gentleman were never tongue-tied, they always knew just what to say. Darcy was beginning to fear that Miss Bennet would somehow find an excuse to not join them for supper at his house, and that was something he could not allow to happen. The crowd was finally beginning to thin, and he suspected his time to act was growing short.

“Miss Bennet, it seems somehow I must have unknowing caused you offence and that is the last thing in the world I would ever wish to do. I value your friendship not out of gratitude, but because you are a singularly delightful lady, and I believe it is safe to say that Georgiana feels the same. While we are grateful for your timely interference, please do not misapprehend our friendship as anything but genuine.”

Elizabeth blushed and stammered, “Th-thank you, Mr. Darcy. I am glad to hear you say such.”

Darcy was wholly charmed by Elizabeth’s genuineness. He took her hand in his, bowed and said, “You are quite welcome; however, I can assure you that the pleasure, Miss Bennet, is entirely mine.”

Before anything more could be said, Miss Bingley’s shrill voice was heard calling them, in a most shocking manner, from across the way. Darcy and Elizabeth each flinched, bracing themselves for another encounter with the horrible woman. The Lt. Colonel had also marked Miss Bingley’s call and had no intention of feigning the politeness required of a meeting in public. In order to avoid the situation altogether, the Lt. Colonel loudly said, “Mrs. Jennings, Georgiana, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I must report back rather early this evening.” He pointedly looked to Mrs. Jenning’s friends. “I am sure your friends will gladly excuse us, will they not?”

The ladies, completely charmed by the handsome, young, well-decorated officer, of course immediately took their leave, promising to send their cards around very soon.

“Well,” the Lt. Colonel clapped his hands, “now that we are unencumbered, might I suggest that we leave with all due speed? For my part, I’d rather suffer drowning in the rain than hold another moment’s conference with that harpy headed our way.”

Darcy quickly said, “I couldn’t agree more,” then immediately reddened. A gentleman should never, no matter how true the opinion might be, express it so in company. Recovering his manners, he asked. “Ladies, what say you? I leave the choice in your hands.”

Mrs. Jennings was very glad for her years; they meant she needn’t suffer fools if she chose not to. Looking to Miss Darcy, it was plain the young girl had no desire for Miss Bingley’s company any more than she did. Elizabeth would go wherever she was bid, so Mrs. Jennings agreed it was time to depart.

August 23, 2012   I had a very lovely, encouraging email today regarding Without Reference. Thank you, Gail W., for taking the time to contact me. When I had a few free moments this evening to re-visit the story, I finally figured out the problem I had which had given me pause about going forward. While I re-work the problematic area, please enjoy the newly-abbreviated chapter 4. I think you’ll enjoy where we go from here. Thank you for reading, and if anyone asks, no, I did not fall off the face of the earth, I just cannot at the moment keep up with the regular stuff in life, let alone spend quality time working on my stories. The kids head back to school very soon (Michigan doesn’t start until after Labor Day.) and (fingers crossed) I hope to have a bit more time.  As it stands, I really am working on the other stories. Hopefully, I can return soon to “board” life. I miss everyone. I really do appreciate everyone who takes the time to come and read my meager offerings. Thanks, your support means more than I can say.


michchick, your wayward authoress   

contact me at: meanderingsandmissives@gmail.com 

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Without Reference by michchick aka Jennifer H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
 


Prologue

Excerpt from Inside Track News, August 2003:  The new anti-NASCAR league is forming now! Several dissatisfied owners, along with even more investors looking to break into the sport, are teaming up to design the charter for the new, as yet un-named, organization. When asked why such steps to break away from NASCAR were necessary, only Will Darcy of Pemberley Powersports would answer ITN. Mr. Darcy, whose business holdings reach well beyond the track, jokingly quipped, “It was necessary because I really can’t stand country music.” Obviously, the heir of racing legend George Darcy shares his late father’s droll sense of humor.

Excerpt from Inside Track News, December 2003:  Things appear to be falling well into order for the rebel racers and their new league. We have it on the best authority that 8-time NASCAR champion Lew DeBourgh and his team has agreed to join the upstarts. Big Lew is the first confirmed star the new league, which is keeping it’s name under wraps until the April press conference, has been able to draw. Wherever Big Lew goes, others are sure to follow!

We here at ITN have also confirmed that the new league’s schedule will not follow NASCAR, but run complimentary to it. We asked around but only Will Darcy of Pemberley Powersports would answer ITN. He explained: “We, the owners and sponsors, have no wish to punish the fans. Just because we wish to run things differently than NASCAR, does not mean that there’s anything inherently wrong with it. We just wish to race more often and in different places. We want to run in Ohio and Oregon, and other places that want a race…not everyone can afford to travel to Indy or Daytona, so our desire is to bring racing to the people. I mean really, not everyone can afford a $100,000 RV and camp for a week on the infield, nor should they have to. And we aren’t going to take away from what NASCAR does or means for their fans.”

When asked if there was concern over flooding the market, Darcy laughed. “We are simply giving the fans what they want. If you’re a Dale Jr. fan and you wish to follow him on the circuit, what we’re doing changes nothing. What our league is bringing is new courses, new drivers, new jobs and hopefully, new excitement to racing. We’re setting up courses in areas that have never had the chance to see a race like this, and hopefully, with better access, more people can see why racing is positively the best sport around.”

Excerpt from Inside Tracks News, April 2003:  On the straight and NARO? The much-anticipated name of the upstart racing league came down yesterday at a press conference in Meryton, New York yesterday. Will Darcy of Pemberley Powersports, on behalf of the owners and sponsors, unveiled the league’s name: North American Racing Organization. When asked why the secrecy, Darcy quipped, “I can’t say, it’s a secret.” All seems well for the fledgling group as they announced during the press conference that the inaugural season would begin in May 2004. Teams all around the US are working furiously to finish building exciting tracks that promise to make for even more exciting races.

The surprise in the announcement yesterday was the inclusion of Canada and Mexico in the organization. Star racer Lew DeBourgh was quoted as saying, “Why the hell not? They deserve to watch me win just as much as anybody else does!”  It’s expected that not only will there be international drivers on the new circuit, but it now seems likely there may be cross-border venues as well.

Excerpt from Inside Track News, December 2003:  With just a few months until the inaugural season of NARO, the drivers have been gearing up for what should be an interesting year. In the first season the NARO drivers will compete for the Rose Cup. Yes, folks, you read that right! Lew DeBourgh’s wife Kat has provided the first trophy for NARO and of course chose to name it in honor of her team. There will be 55 races for the Rose Cup. The NARO board has decided to play wait-and-see how this year plays out before decided to add another series to NARO.

Excerpt from Inside Track News, February 2004: ITN has just learned that Will Darcy will no longer be racing for Pemberley! You may remember that it was reported by ITN last month that he’d spun out and hit the wall at Meryton Motorway. We can only speculate what might have caused the accident but it seems that Darcy has lost his nerve to race. There are plenty of other talented drivers at Pemberley, but we here at ITN were looking forward to seeing if Darcy could handle the wheel like his old man did. What a shame!

Excerpt from Inside Track News, July 2004: ITN is happy to say the race is on and everybody wins! It seems that fledgling league NARO is exceeding everyone’s expectations and fans could not be more excited. NARO events have been sold out, the coverage on cable pulls in ratings and consequently, since everyone has racing fever, NASCAR attendance and ratings are up as well.

Excerpt from Inside Track News, October 2004: Ricky Fitzwilliam is leading the NARO pack followed closely by George Wickham and Lew DeBourgh. The rookie Ricky Fitzwilliam has been earning quite the reputation this season as a gentleman both on and off the track. We have to say don’t count veteran Lew DeBourgh out just yet!

Excerpt from Inside Track News, March 2005: The racing world has lost one of it’s greatest legends this week. We will all mourn the loss of Lew DeBourgh for a long time to come. Kat DeBourgh has expressed her thanks for all the warm wishes that have come in regarding the loss of her husband but she’s also announced that she fully intends to keep Rosings going in honor of her dearest Lew. “Lew found out about the cancer back in January but was told because of the advanced stage it had already reached, there was little chance to fight it and win. My Lew chose to do what he does best instead- he drove fast. Winning the Rose Cup in the inaugural season of NARO was his dream, and he had just enough fight left in him to do it! He loved racing and I’m so proud of his achievements.”

Excerpt from Inside Track News, May 2006:  As NARO gears up for another Rose Cup, we’re pleased to exclusively announce that NARO has added a second cup series which has been named the LDB. We had our suspicions and an unnamed NARO official has confirmed the LDB is named after racing legend Lew DeBourgh. This is highly unusual, but then NARO seems to be an organization that was made to make it’s own rules. Lew DeBourgh was a 8-time NASCAR champion and also won the inaugural season of NARO by winning it’s Rose Cup. DeBourgh passed away from cancer in March 2006. With the addition of the LDB Cup series, NARO will now have races running all year long.

Excerpt from Inside Track News, July 2008: Ricky Fitzwilliam was recent spotted in the Pemberley pit at Netherfield Speedway. Can Rosings’ golden-boy and 2-time LDB Cup winner be looking to switch teams? We have to say this about the drivers, owners and teams of NARO: they’re never boring!

Excerpt from Inside Track News, January 2009: One of ITN’s eagle-eyed writers recently spotted Pemberley Powersports owner Will Darcy pacing the track at Netherfield Speedway. Is Will Darcy looking to try again? We here at ITN can only hope George Darcy’s boy will strap in and give it a go!

In other news, Longbourne Racing, long known for mediocrity, has a new driver. Joining Jake Lucas and Kyle Long is Jane Bennet. Jane Bennet is looking to be NARO’s Danica Patrick. Is this just a stunt to put cash-strapped Longbourne on the map, or does Miss Bennet have what it takes to run with the big boys? We’ll just have to wait and see!

Also new this year competing for the LDB Cup is Chuck Bingley. Bingley is the all-American boy from California that has every 14-year old girl begging daddy for tickets to events. After a top-ten finish in the Rose Cup series, Bingley is hoping to move up in the standings by running in both series.

NARO’s fifth anniversary is shaping up to be quite a year!

  

Chapter One: Start your engines!

May 2009 Meryton Motorway

“Damn it! Faster! You idiots have got to move faster than that!”

John Lucas turned red with being yelled at and lost his concentration. He dropped his drill and shouted back. “Shit! Bennet, I’m going as fast as I can!”

“Lucas? Do I have your full attention?” John nodded yes. “Good. Listen, and listen well: ‘as fast as I can’ is not good enough. You need to be faster still. That last change was 17 seconds. That is unacceptable! Everyone was waiting on you. Now if you can’t handle your position, we can try you in another. Maybe gas catcher would be better for you.”

Lucas looked into the stone face of his pit boss and knew the threats were no joke. “No Boss, I can do it. I know I can be better next time. Can I have another chance? Please? On my soul, I’ll do better!”

“For crying out loud Lucas, don’t grovel. Begging doesn’t cut it. Just improve and we’ll go from there.  You are on warning though…the next pit needs to be under 14 or you’ll see how serious I was about gas catching.”

“Yes Boss.”  Lucas dejectedly agreed.

Bennet turned to address the entire crew in the pit. “Okay people. Jane’ll run out 25 and unless there’s a problem, we’re going to run a standard change when she comes in and it will be under 14 or we will be making some serious changes until we can keep it under 14. The days of Longbourne’s mediocrity are over people! We have worked damn hard getting ready for this and we will make this work! Now let’s get this place in shape. Move it!”

The crew hurriedly went about their tasks getting ready for Jane Bennet’s next pit.  A wry smile crept upon Bennet’s lips as the crew ran to do their duty. Bennet truly believed this was going to be the season Longbourne Racing had always dreamed of. It was going to be a very good season.

Clapping caught Bennet’s attention and the sound was followed by Tom Bennet’s voice. “Bravo! What a performance! I could not have bellowed out the commands any better. I do have one question though…”

Bennet quirked an eyebrow in question and asked, “What?”

“Was it truly necessary to scare the young Lucas boy so? I thought he was going to piss in his overalls! Oh LizzyLou, you really are my little ball breaker!”

Elizabeth Bennet did something completely out of character, at least while in pit-boss mode: she laughed. “Oh Papa, if I am, it’s all your fault. I learned from the best. You know that Jane swears I was a boy until you broke mine and turned me into a girl.”

Tom chuckled. “Not true at all. If anything LizzyLou, you have bigger balls than most men I’ve ever met!”  

Lizzy rolled her eyes. “I’ll take your word on that Papa! I’m pretty certain most men would find it humiliating to drop trou so I can have a look to compare.”

Tom Bennet shook his head at his daughter’s suggestion. “And for even having such a thought is why I know it must be true!”

Looking to change the subject Lizzy questioned, “Was I really too hard on John?”

“No. The day I see you be any easier than you were just now is the day I pull you off this job! You worked damn hard to be Pit Boss and it’s not a job for the soft and squishy. I know the press is making a big deal out of Jane doing a ‘man’s job’ but that’s nothing compared to what you’ve accomplished my LizzyLou!”

“Damn it Dad! Don’t call me that! Especially here! Nothing sounds squishier or softer than you calling me LizzyLou! Call me Bennet, or Ben, or Benny like everyone else…please? “

“Since you asked so nicely, I’ll consider it.” Tom took a long look around the work area and saw everything humming nicely along as it should be. “The warm-ups are going well. Tomorrow during time trials I’m bringing in someone to look around.”

The Bennets had owned Longbourne Racing forever. Tom Bennet had raced on lesser circuits, never quite making it to the ranks of NASCAR. When NARO started a few years ago, he was able to attract some new investors so he could race his team seriously. Bill Lucas had made some money with his software company and as his eldest son Jake wanted to race, investing in Longbourne seemed ideal. Sadly, the economy was not as solid as it had been a few years ago and Lucas’ business suffered. To increase his capital and assets for his company, he needed to sell his share in Longbourne. Lucas hoped to find a buyer before the end of the year. There were no hard feelings between Bill and Tom, mostly because Bill was the very sort of man whom it was impossible not to like. Bill Lucas was a very gregarious man who sought everyone’s good opinion and freely gave his own.

Elizabeth sighed. “Please tell me this one at least has a clue about racing!”

NARO had brought many changes to the forefront of racing. While many of these changes had been positive, one negative was that any speed-freak with cash to burn thought they could come in and buy a team without knowing even the basics of the sport.

“I should hope so LizzyLou! Sorry!  I meant, Benny!” He father winked. “This Bill Collins person represents Kat DeBourgh.”

“Kat DeBourgh? Of Rosings? That’s the Kat Debourgh? Jesus, Dad!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

Tom exploded. “Watch it Benny! You may be the boss around here, buy I’m both your owner and your father and I will not permit you to go around saying whatever you like! You will watch your mouth young lady!”

Elizabeth looked down at her bright red Chuck Taylors and said quietly, “Sorry Papa. I’ll watch it.”

 Tom pulled her chin up to look her in the eye and smiled. “That’s my girl. Now, get this place in order before Jane comes in! And I’ll see you tomorrow bright and early for time trials. Have a good night, Benny.

“Good night, Papa!” Elizabeth waved until her father crossed to the infield. She took a deep breath and looked at her watch. Swearing under her breath she shook her head and began to whistle and clap fro everyone’s attention. “Alright people! Let’s get this show on the road; we’ve got less than 15 before Jane’s back. We will do this change in what?” She put her hand to her ear, waiting for a response.

The crew shouted in unison, “Under 14!”

She clapped her hands together loudly, “Excellent people! You do listen!”

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 Sometime later, after another 75 turns, Jane’s panicky voice came though Elizabeth’s headset.  “Lizzy! Jesus, the torque is off! It’s killing me going through turn 3! If I don’t bring her in my shoulder’s gonna kill me tonight from all the pulling. The shake is bad!”

Elizabeth soothed Jane, “Okay Janey…bring her in on the next pass. We’ll get you straightened out! I know it’s pulling, I know you’re tired, you bring her in and we’ll make her right.”

There were a few moments of static silence. When Jane spoke again Elizabeth could hear that her sister had significantly calmed down.  “Okay Lizzy. You’re right. I’ll just bring her in and we’ll set her right.”

“Yes we will sweetie! I see you coming down the straight, now, now, now, now come on in…NOW!”

The team exploded into action. The standard pit was accomplished in 13.2 but the additional repair to the offending tie rod took longer. When the crew was finished, Jane sped out and resumed her place on the circuit.

After 4 passes, Lizzy radioed Jane. “How’s she holding?”

“Much better Lizzy!”  Elizabeth could hear Jane’s smile. “You’re a genius!”

The Pit Boss laughed. “True that! Now finish your run so we can all go home!”

“Will do Boss!” Jane agreed.

Elizabeth teased, “Damn straight I’m the Boss!”

Simultaneously they said, “And don’t you forget it!”

  

Chapter Two: Who’s the Boss?

Tom Bennet had already made up his mind. There was no way on this earth or any other that the slimy man who was oozing insincerity would have any input now, or ever, on Longbourne. While Tom felt sympathy for his friend Bill Lucas, he couldn’t stomach the thought of having any kind of working relationship with Bill Collins! Tom was at a loss to understand how this sycophantic toad worked for Kat DeBourgh.

Tom had already introduced Collins to Kyle Long and they had just left the pit where Jake was getting ready to run. Collins nodded and asked proper questions at the appropriate moments. On the surface, he seemed to be alright, but there was something about the way he spoke, the way he tried to anticipate responses that left much to be desired. He spoke reverently about Kat. Tom had known Lew DeBourgh from early in Lew’s career and surmised that this Collins person must have come to Rosings only after Lew’s death, for surely there was no way he would ever stood for such a obsequious man to be in his employ.

There were, of course, many rumors flying around about the state of things at Rosings. It seems that while Kat DeBourgh had a great head for figures and was very astute about business, she had no people skills whatsoever. The exodus out of Rosings had begun with Ricky Fitzwilliam and it seemed that they were losing drivers faster than they could sign them. Ricky had been a prince about the whole matter and had never uttered one disparaging word about his former owner but others were not so tight-lipped. When Al Grant left the team, he would not stop talking about the abuse heaped on the drivers at Rosings!

It seems that Kat DeBourgh micro-managed her drivers till they cracked under the strain of her constant nagging. She dictated their diets, their relationships, what they should do with their free time, where they should live, what house they should buy, whether they should be married or have children, how often they should see a doctor and on and on. It seemed that without Lew to dote on, she felt the need to mother everyone she felt responsible for. It was all quite understandable, but a real shame nonetheless.  Tom Bennet assumed since this Bill Collins only liked telling people what they wished to hear, it made him indispensable in Kat’s eyes.

Tom Bennet and Bill Collins made their way to Jane’s pit. All the other reasons Tom didn’t like Collins paled in comparison to the niggling feeling he had in his gut about the real reason Collins was here.

Jane was suited up but had yet to put on her helmet. She was walking around the car, doing her final visual inspection as she did whenever she was going to run. As she heard her father’s tell-tale footfall, she turned and greeted him with a huge smile.

Collins was awed by Jane Bennet. He had heard she was rather pretty but the photos he’d seen in the magazines and on the internet did this beautiful creature that now stood before him no justice at all! Rosings needed a driver that would once again restore their standing as the premier team in racing and, according to Collins’ market research; Jane Bennet was just the driver to do it!

“Miss Bennet, may I call you Jane? Jane, you must allow me to tell you what an honor and privilege it is to meet such a pioneering woman!” Collins fawned.

Jane looked at her father for a moment in alarm then demurely responded, “Thank you, but I’m no pioneer…I’m just following the path laid down by braver women than I.”

Collins would not be gainsaid, “Pish-tosh and nonsense! You are a paragon of everything that a woman can achieve in a man’s world! That is why my gracious lady, Kat DeBourgh, wishes to look into purchasing this team! Why, she is far and away the bravest and most generous woman alive today! If you only knew what a kind and thoughtful soul she is, you would know it to be a fact as I do.”

Jane looked around to see if Lizzy could be found. Elizabeth delighted in ridiculous people and Jane was sure that Collins was amongst the most absurd she’d ever met.

Collins noticed Jane’s distraction and ascribed it to racing preparations. “Yes, my dear Jane, I see that I’ve come at just the wrong moment. We will finish this discussion later after your trial.”

Jane was certain the time trial would be nothing compared to the trial of having to meet with Collins again. “Oh, yes, well…that will be something to look forward to, I suppose.” Jane left the car in a hurry and went to find Lizzy before her run.   

Collins turned to Tom and announced, “Yes, I believe I will heartily recommend your team for Mrs. DeBourgh’s consideration.”

“Yes, I see we’ll have much to discuss later on. For now, how about we go to the control trailer? After the trial, you can meet my Pit Bosses.”

Collins cooed, “How delightful!”

Tom Bennet motioned for Collins to walk on ahead and as he fell a step or two behind Collins, Bennet was thinking about the many ways he would kill Bill Lucas for recommending them to Rosings.

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After the time trials were over and Jane was tooling around the track to wind down, she recalled that the awful Collins would be coming to meet her again. She quickly thought through her options and decided it would be best to just ask Lizzy for help.

Into Elizabeth’s headset came a rather whiny plea, “Lizzy? Dearest, sweetest, LizzyLou?”

Elizabeth Bennet knew this was not going to be good. “What?”

“LizzyLou, I need your help and I’m desperate! Daddy is bringing that man from Rosings to the pit and, God help me for saying this, but I’d rather be stuck in a reality show with Octomom, the Gosselins and Dr. Phil than spend another moment with that creepy man! Can you pretty please help me? I can’t face him again!”

Elizabeth had to cover her mic while she laughed. When she felt recovered enough to not burst Jane’s eardrums with peals of laughter she answered, “Why Jane Bennet, this man must be especially loathsome for little ol’ you to want to ditch! I am shocked at your behavior! Which is good for you because that’s the only reason I’m agreeing to help you! Come on in to Kyle’s pit and I’ll meet you there.”

“I owe you big time LizzyLou!”

“Friggin’ quit calling me LizzyLou and we’ll call this one even!”

“I’m 2 turns out from the straight and I’ll be there in a moment.”

“I’m almost to Kyle’s pit…..I see you now.”

“Turning.”

“Okay Jane, now, now, now, now, now, come on in NOW!”

Elizabeth tore off her headset and yelled into the car, “What took you so long?”

Jane was working on untethering herself from the harness and laughed. “You know, sometimes you can be a little bit bitchy!”

“This is something I’m well aware of! It’s what makes me so loveable…I’m an acquired taste!”

“That you are my dearest LizzyLou! Now help me out!” Jane demanded as she worked to climb out of the car.

Lizzy climbed in and grabbed the helmet from Jane in exchange for the headset. When she was strapped in, she motioned to Jane to turn the headset back on. “I’m just gonna take her around a few and see how she’s dragging. I think I may have figured out a better way to help smooth the way through turn 4. Tell Andy to text Papa we pulled a switch for me, okay?” Elizabeth pulled out of the pit and went slow through pit road until she hit the straight and floored it.

 “Alright, you just be careful out there with my baby!”

“Your baby? Jane, you’re delusional! I built her! If anything, she’s my baby and you’re just the highly public baby-sitter! When you find Andy, give him the headset and you can go about your merry way. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the golden boy!”

“Cut it out Lizzy! Chuck is very cute and all but really, what would such a perfect man like Chuck Bingley want with me?”

“Hold up! Did you notice a slight rattle in turn 3?” Lizzy asked.

“Uh, no, or I’d have called it in.”

“Okay, I’ll listen again through the next lap. But about Bingley the wonder-boy…if I wasn’t your sister and didn’t know you were serious when you make statements like that, I’d have to hate you! You, my dearest sister, are womanly perfection and make the rest of us plain Janes, no pun intended, sick to our stomachs.”

“Alright LizzyLou, that’s enough of that! It’s not likely we’re even going to meet…Pemberley keeps a tight rein on its drivers and you also most certainly did intend that pun! Anyways, unless there’s anything else you need me for, I’m handing you over to Andy now.”

“No, I’m good, the other turns seem fine. I’m just gonna check on 3 again and then bring her in.”

Jane handed the headset over to Andy Barber and wished him luck. “She’s all yours now!”

Andy frowned at Jane and said, “Gee, Jane, and I didn’t get you anything….”

Andy waved goodbye to Jane and turned his focus on Elizabeth. “Okay Benny, you ready to bring her in yet or are you gonna stay out and have some fun?”

Elizabeth Bennet had been a very precocious child. She’d been fascinated by cars since she could first sit up straight as a baby and her very first word had been “go” followed shortly by “fast” and then “vroom”. Tom Bennet was an indulgent father and would bring his little LizzyLou to work with him when she was a toddler. Where other kids would have just made a mess of things, his LizzyLou was fascinated by how they worked. When she was but 4 she rebuilt the carburetor on Tom’s ’67 Mustang. As she grew, so did her innate ability to understand automobile mechanics.

When Elizabeth began kindergarten, it became glaringly obvious she did not belong. They moved her ahead to first grade so she’d be more challenged. The only challenge Elizabeth faced was how not to get in trouble for showing up the teacher. Finally, to the satisfaction of everyone involved, the Bennets had Elizabeth tested to ascertain just where she belonged. In the sciences she was testing beyond college levels, for English and Social Sciences, she was around the 11th grade level. It had been decided she would be home-schooled and work through the state requirements until she could test out for her high school education.

 Elizabeth, brilliant as she was, was a rather indifferent student and preferred playing grease-monkey in the garage with her father than studying the philosophies of Locke and Thoreau with her mother. Where she could have finished her high school education by the age of 6, she dawdled her time away and finished at the ripe old age of 9. When she was 9, she decided she had enough of ‘book’ learning and begged her parents to just let her be for a few years before making her go to college. When she turned 13 and the boys in the neighborhood begun to notice that little LizzyLou was growing up, she thought it would be a wise time to get on with her education.

Elizabeth Bennet had been offered many scholarships and more than one prestigious institution of higher learning hoped their hallowed halls would be blessed by the presence of the spunky wunderkind. In the end, all that mattered to Elizabeth was that she wanted to study mechanical engineering and if she could do it somewhat close to home, so much the better. MIT, Berkeley, Yale, Harvard, Brown and a few other elite universities were saddened when the nearly 14 year old Elizabeth Bennet chose to enroll at the University of Michigan. When asked what swayed her to choose U of M, she quipped, “Football!”

Elizabeth enjoyed her time in Ann Arbor. She lived with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in a house on Division in a little apartment that was over the garage. Elizabeth joked she was their own version of Fonzie, as she fixed everything around the house and always barged in uninvited for meals. For laughs, Aunt Sophie even found Lizzy the same Marlon Brando poster they used in Happy Days. Those two and a half years spent in Ann Arbor were very good for Elizabeth. She learned to be independent while being watched over but not smothered. Her classes were interesting and she genuinely felt for the first time in her life that people understood her. Elizabeth graduated summa cum laude at the age of 16 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

For a while she made an attempt to work in the so-called ‘real world’. With her youth, vigor and pedigree, she’d been highly recruited by many of the top tier engineering firms. Elizabeth assumed this was what growing up was all about. Initially, designing ‘cars of the future’ had been exciting; however, it did not take long for reality to set it. After leaving her firm in Auburn Hills, Elizabeth set out to work directly for Ford in the ‘glass house’ in Dearborn. This was even worse than the last place! To Elizabeth, the pace was too slow, the bureaucracy was too much and she ran out everyone’s patience with her antics.  She loved the Big Three and always would; but she now knew she wasn’t cut out to be an ordinary engineer, taking a whole year to design one door handle that would be on a car that wouldn’t even come out for 6 years! At the very old age of 19, Elizabeth Bennet retired from automotive engineering.

At 19, she came home to Brooklyn. Not New York, but Michigan. The Bennet house stood in the shadow of the Michigan International Speedway.  Now there are arguments of nature versus nurture on how they inform to create the basis for individual personality. Some will say that how you raise your child, how you nurture them, is the strongest factor in what a child will become. Others swear that nature is the strongest force, that environment and your inherent DNA will be the key factors. In the case of Elizabeth Bennet, it’s really a draw. Raised where she was, by who she was, there was really no other outcome given her natural abilities.

When she came to the garage the next day, Andy Barber had been the first one to great her. “Lizzy! Look at you! It’s great to see you. Now can you hand me the pneumatic drill?”

Andy Barber never treated her like she was special, or an oddity. He only ever treated her like she was a fellow mechanic. Andy taught her everything he knew about how to run a shop and more importantly, how to be a good boss. When Longbourne began to travel with the Winston Cup series, Elizabeth found her passion. She loved racing. She’d always loved racing but now, as an adult, she could choose this life and make it her own. And that was exactly what she did.

As Longbourne continued season after season, it became apparent that Tom would not be able to race forever. He began to search out new talent and found Kyle Long. When Kyle was added in 2002, “Benny”, for that was what everyone called her, became Kyle’s Crew Chief and Pit Boss. After a few more seasons, Tom retired from driving and brought on John Lucas when they switched to NARO. This season saw Jane come on as the third driver and Benny was promoted to Senior Pit Boss with Andy’s blessings.

Andy was momentarily lost in the past when Elizabeth’s voice crackled through on the headset. “Of course I wanna have some fun!”

Andy Barber smiled, “That’s my girl, Benny!”

Elizabeth laughed and gave a small delighted squeal as she banked high and fast through the third turn, diving down towards the center as she came through.

Chapter Three: Now entering the field… 

There are some people who seem to have been made to live their lives in front of a camera. The great tragedy is many of them never actually face one, so it just becomes a waste of a confident persona. There are still others who are reticent by nature but for whom the camera seems to incessantly follow their every move, no matter how much they may wish it were otherwise.

Chuck Bingley was born to be in the spotlight.

The race on May 10th would open the season for the NARO Rose Cup series and today was press day at Meryton Motorway. Chuck was holding court in the Pemberley hospitality area and the press just loved him. He was all ease and friendliness, no matter how ridiculous or inane the questions were.

One 50-ish looking woman wearing a press pass from USA Today raised her hand and Chuck pointed to her. “Yes, Chuck, our readers want to know what aftershave do you use?”

“Uh, well, until I hear from my publicist…I’m not actually allowed to say. Sorry. Do you have another question for your readers?”

She stammered at being addressed by the handsome young man. “Why yes! What toppings do you prefer on your pizza and would that be a thin or thick crust?”

Chuck smiled broadly, “Well, I’m an old-fashioned fella I guess…I’d have to say that my favorite pizza is thin-crusted pepperoni. If I really want to be exciting, I add mushroom.”

A kid that must have been representing some school newspaper waved his hand frantically until he was called on. “Yeah, uh, Mr. Bingley, sir, I’m supposed to ask if you think that the American love affair with racing will continue in this age of environmental awareness?”

Chuck looked pensive for a moment as he thought his answer through. Finally, he answered, “Well, I’m afraid I’m no expert on the subject but my owner actually is…Will? Can you help me out here?”

Will Darcy was not born to be in the spotlight. He hated it and ended up making quips that bordered on rude each time he was thrust in the limelight.

Darcy glared at Bingley, assuring his driver they’d discuss this later. Bingley angled the mic towards Darcy and as Will opened his mouth, nothing came out. He closed it for a moment to work out his reply and at length he finally said, “While NARO cars are on the whole the most fuel efficient racing vehicles out there, we here are Pemberley are striving to make the move towards greener cars. I know that most believe you have to sacrifice performance to be green, but we’re looking to prove that’s simply not true. In the meantime, you can refer to the NARO website for full disclosure on the environmental impact of each car. Also, for each hit to the site, Pemberley Powersports also makes a donation to help offset our carbon footprint.”

The crowd just sat in silence for a moment.  Darcy’s unease at speaking publicly always had a way of making the whole room feel awkward. A young man whom Will recognized wrote for ITN bravely raised his hand and Chuck pointed to him.

“Thanks you Mr. Darcy for that information. Now, Chuck, we heard through the grapevine that you were dating airline heiress Mary King. Can you confirm this?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t confirm that for you. I’ve never even flown King Airways, let alone met Mary King! I’m pretty sure you still have to actually meet someone before you could be considered dating…though if you’d like to introduce us…” Bingley smiled.

An older man was called on next. “Bingley, can you tell us what you think about this new lady driver from Longbourne?”

“Sure! I think it’s great. That’s what I love about driving for NARO. I heard she did really well in the ARCA series last year and I think she’ll be a great addition to the field.”

A short series of beeps emanated from his iPhone sounding that he was due in a meeting with some sponsors and his publicist. Standing up and raising his hand to wave good-bye, Bingley addressed the press, “I’m sorry to do this, but I’ve got another appearance I really need to make. I’m sure Darcy here will be happy to answer a few more questions. I look forward to seeing all of you tomorrow at the race!” With a final wave, he disappeared behind the blue curtain, leaving a seething Darcy to the mercy of the mob.

Elizabeth and Jane were heading down the main concourse towards where Lucas had arranged a small meet-and-greet for Longbourne, when their attention had been caught by the question and answer about the ‘lady driver’. They stood towards the back of the throng and listened to Bingley speak, quite briefly, about Jane.  Elizabeth watched her sister turn six shades of purple, though she could not tell whether it was from pride or embarrassment. They then watched Bingley wave good-bye and were about to leave when another reporter asked a question of the owner that demanded Elizabeth’s full attention.

“Mr. Darcy, we all know that Jane is capable driver, but we’ve also heard that Longbourne’s Senior Pit Boss is a woman and that she’s Jane Bennet’s Crew Chief. What do you think this means for the future of racing?”

Elizabeth turned to see what Darcy would say. He initially said nothing and the wait was unbearable. Pemberley was one of the true driving forces of NARO and Will Darcy was undeniably even more critical to the circuit’s success that even Kat DeBourgh. As Elizabeth waited for him to say something, she was struck with the gnawing notion that she’d met him before. Somehow, he seemed familiar but she knew that to be impossible. It was probably just from having followed the stories about George Darcy and how when he crashed and burned, his entire empire fell to the young man now seated before her.

“I believe this is just a bit of publicity-hunting on Longbourne’s part. A woman driver is one thing…though I can make a strong case against the whole notion. But a woman crew chief? That’s just absurd! Women are just too emotional to be taken seriously in a crisis and they generally lack the proficiency required to run a smooth pit. I don’t think either one will last the season.” As Will looked up from his hands which were playing with the cord to the microphone, his eyes locked across the crowd with the most striking pair of hazel eyes he’d ever seen. The woman whose eyes now held Darcy’s was beyond furious which only fed her anger because he’s just announced before the whole world that she was likely too emotional to make good decisions!

Darcy rarely noticed women. That was not to say that he did not like women, far from it! He was much sought-after and knowing that most women preferred what he could offer to what he was, he’d chosen instead to dedicate his time and efforts to raising Georgiana and building the business.

Will’s father had many times told the story of how he’d met Will’s mother.  Anne Fitzwilliam had been a reporter for the Fayetteville Free News sent to cover the race at Rockingham. As George Darcy stood in the winner’s circle, their eyes locked and they knew. Will always thought his old man was just full of sentimental nonsense until this moment. He needed to break eye contact with this woman but then what? Do you just walk up to someone and say something like, “My dad always told me that I‘d know and now I do?” And did he know? It was unlikely. This woman had amazing eyes and that was the end of it. Other than some of the reporters that travel with the cup series, the chances he’d ever see this beautiful woman again were slim at best.

The media were still murmuring about his last answer and no one else wanted him to talk or answer any more questions, so Will thanked everyone for coming and invited those who still had questions to stay and he’d try to answer them. He half-hoped and feared the hazel-eyed wonder would stay, hoping that she felt a connection too. Will looked at his Blackberry for a moment to check a text from Georgiana and when he looked up she was gone.

No one stayed to talk to Darcy from the press. There were a few young women who had snuck into the conference to see the rich, eligible bachelor Darcy, but as usual, the real Darcy frightened them away.

“Oh well,” Will thought, “lightning can’t strike twice in the same family, can it? If it was meant to be, it’ll be…que sera and all that. Damn Bingley! Carrie better not talk him into anything ridiculous or I’ll kill her.”

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Jane Bennet had heard all the same things that Elizabeth had but she’d not heard them with the same feelings. All Jane had really heard was that Chuck Bingley had a vague idea of who she was and knew that she was no green driver. Elizabeth was highly irritated that Jane was not good and angry like she was. Will Darcy, one of the most powerful men in their organization, had said they’d fail! Oh, he was clever and didn’t say it outright, he was too smooth for that, but he had said they wouldn’t last the season!  

Elizabeth knew she needed to calm down. They were about to face the media and if ever there was a time she needed to keep it altogether, it was now! She took a deep breath, stood up as straight as she could and walked forward towards the table that Bill Lucas had set up for Longbourne. Tom Bennet stood behind his team as each driver sat beside their crew chief. On the far right was Kyle Long, next sat Any Barber, then Jake Lucas and his pit boss Mike Knight, next was Jane and on the far left was Elizabeth. When everyone was sure the mics were all on and in order, Tom signaled they were ready.

When Bill Lucas had arranged for the Longbourne Q&A session, hardly anyone had been interested at all. Now, people were pouring out of their area and onto the main concourse.  Lucas wondered, not for the first time, if it was really wise to sell his share of interest in Longbourne.

Tom pointed at the closest hand he could see. “Thank you Mr. Bennet. I understand that Longbourne is all about family…your daughters work for you, your wife aids with marketing and you chief investor’s son drives for you. My question is this: is it hard to separate family out from your decision making?”

Tom laughed, “Not really. When we’re here, we’re a team first and foremost. It’s more likely that decision making in the family is more affected by our racing than vice-versa.”

Jake Lucas piped in, “I know that my Dad is just happy when I don’t crash. As long as I don’t ruin my ride, he’s cool.”

The Bennet sisters tried not to laugh, but it was impossible. Jane put her two cents in, “My dad is the least of my worries. I’ve got this one here,” Jane pointed her thumb at Elizabeth, “coaching me for 4 hours on a Sunday.  When I’m strapped in and she’s got her headset on, we’re no longer sisters. I’m just a driver and she’s just my Boss. Of course, there are times after the race I may feel a need to slug her one, but those are few and far between.”

Darcy was on his way to hunt down Chuck when he came upon the bottleneck that was the Longbourne Q&A. He muttered to himself that it was the damndest thing, but still he wondered what all the fuss was about. Will slipped through the crowd and wound his way up the left side. When he was about 20 feet from the dais, he caught sight of his hazel-eyed wonder-woman once more.

Elizabeth had no intention of saying anything until she noticed a tall man pushing his way, rather rudely too, through the crowd. Her first thought was he was too handsome to be real. Her second thought was he wasn’t real. He was the unbelievably arrogant jerk who called women in racing too emotional! Her third thought brought a smile to her face as she leaned towards the mic which was between her and Jane.

“And I’m sure I rightly deserve it too, Jane. You guys know how it is; I go home and weep after each run.” Elizabeth started waving her hands frantically in front of her face like she couldn’t breathe, all the while trying to sound pathetic while vainly trying not to burst into laughter. “The big, strong men just have no idea how hard it is for us pitiful, emotional womenfolk to keep it together long enough to decide anything at all.” She could keep up the pretense no longer. “Sorry about that folks. I just heard something ridiculous earlier. It seems there are some folks,” she paused to glare right at Will, “out there that don’t believe we can even finish out the season, much less even place well.”

There was a rumbling of disbelief that washed over the crowd. Darcy heard a faint chant beginning. He strained to hear it but could not make it out yet. It quickly grew louder until ‘long live Longbourne ladies’ could be heard right loud and clear. Will mentally kicked himself. His father, brilliant man that he was, had always held fast to certain old adages and amongst George Darcy’s favorites was ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ Will realized, all too late, that no saying could possibly hold more truth that that. If the pretty blonde one was Jane, then by simple process of elimination his wonder-woman must be Elizabeth the Crew Chief.

“She’s not your anything, nor is she likely to be genius!” Will thought. He turned to leave, his mind a jumble of mortification and shame for what he’d said and what he’d wrought. He had no wish to start a war in the press with her. It was all Bingley’s fault. Had Chuck not left to meet with the sponsors, he’d not have been able to shove his foot in his mouth quite so badly. Between taking care of the team, his company, Georgiana and keeping the rest of the family as happy as he could, Will Darcy was tired. “Is it actually too much to hope for even a little happiness for myself?” he pondered.

Chuck and his idiotic endorsements could wait. Darcy changed his course and headed down to the track.

 

Chapter Four: The first lap.

Between the LBD and Rose Cups, the NARO series ran almost 11 months of the year. There were, of course, small gaps in the schedules so drivers wouldn’t burn out, but everyone needed to be in competition mode all year long to be a contender.

The season, as it were, for NARO begins each year in May. Each year, the LBD ends in February and the Rose concludes each March. Everyone takes the month of April off to head to wherever home might be, often resulting in a fresh crop of new NARO fans being born the following January. All sports seem to perpetuate their fan bases in a similar manner, so racing isn’t any more infamous in this manner than, for example, say hockey or baseball.

Each season opens with the first race of the Rose Cup at Meryton Motorway in upstate New York. The NARO Board of Governors kick off each new season by throwing what could only be called a grand shindig at the Meryton Assembly Hall. The former manufacturing plant had, some years ago, been turned into a convention center and sports complex. It’s size and proximity made it the perfect venue for one of the biggest parties thrown each year in any sport.

People from all over would beg, borrow and steal in an attempt to obtain a much-coveted invitation to the event. The last few years had been very good for racing and it had become fashionable amongst the celebrity elite to root for a driver. Men came to talk speed and the women came to hope for a glimpse of Ricky Fitzwilliam or Chuck Bingley. It was not unusual for some less scrupulous team members to pad their pockets by scalping tickets to the event. At a charity fundraiser thrown by Kat DeBourgh, someone had bid $10,000 for a pair of tickets to the black-tie affair, and for the desperate, there was always eBay.

Will Darcy had skipped the Meryton Assembly Gala last year and sorely wished he could do so this year. With changes forthcoming at Pemberley and two drivers poised to place high, there was no place else he could afford to be. The only reason he’d been able to muster up any enthusiasm at all was the hope of seeing Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy was well aware he’d made an ass of himself and would attempt to repair the damage before he could cause anymore. He’d reasoned with himself that he must apologize as soon as possible. As the owner of Pemberley and as one of the founders of NARO, it would not be wise to have a feud going with another team; especially over gender inequality! If there was another, perhaps more personal, reason for which Will felt he should make amends to Elizabeth Bennet, he had not yet consciously admitted it to himself. Darcy’s only hope was founded in knowing that these days what he said was largely ignored. He dreaded hearing what Georgie would say should his foolish remarks become public.

Will checked his appearance one last time in the mirror and, being reasonably satisfied that he at least looked like a gentleman, grabbed the keys to his car and headed out the door.

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Bill Collins had just finished a Skype video conference with Kat DeBourgh. He praised Longbourne to the skies and pointed out all the great marketing potential of promoting the Bennet sisters. Bill enumerated the many benefits of bringing Longbourne over to Rosings including have an additional 3 crack pit crews and an entire new set of stocks. Kat had already been through an extremely vexing day and was such a peculiar mood that even Bill’s unique form of toadying wasn’t pacifying her.

Clearly irritated by being bothered, Kat waved her hands dismissively at Bill and declared, “Yes Collins, however you believe we should proceed in this matter shall be fine. At the very least, procure the girl and bring her to Rosings, and then I shall meet with her. Do not fail in this Collins, or I shall be very put out!”  With that last pronouncement, Kat terminated her end of the conference.

Collins was thrilled! Mrs. DeBourgh had entrusted him to make the deal on his own; which, in his estimation, proved he was an invaluable member of Rosings.  Jane Bennet should, no would, be extremely grateful for this tremendous opportunity to race for the prestigious Rosings Team. If it so happened that Jane felt a need to express her gratitude for the condescension which Collins would bestow upon her, he’d voice no complaint. Yes, he would most definitely be making the lovely lady of Longbourne an offer, one way or another. The Meryton Assembly Gala would be the perfect setting for all of Bill Collins’ plans.

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Elizabeth hated these events. She hated them nearly as much as she hated wearing a suit. Had she been able to come up with a plausible excuse to not attend, she’d have lied and stayed home with the favorite men in her life: Ben and Jerry. The truth was simply that Elizabeth was out of excuses. Jane had recently taken her shopping, so she had a dress and couldn’t plead she’d nothing to wear. Jane and Lizzy always went to these things alone by mutual agreement, so not having a date wouldn’t work either. Working in close proximity and practically living with your sister, who’s also your best friend, means using the age-old excuse of ‘woman-trouble’ was laughable, as they’d been on the same ‘schedule’ since their early teens. If Elizabeth made any attempt to feign a physical ailment of any sort, then Tom would pull her from the race and that was simply unacceptable. There was nothing else for it but to suck it up and just go to the Gala.

Jane didn’t like these sort of gatherings much more that Elizabeth did. Jane could suffer fools better than her sister and her natural serenity allowed her to bear it with an easy grace. The chief problem the girls had with these events was dispelling the notion that women couldn’t possibly know anything about a car except where the ignition was. There were few men who were man enough to not feel at least a little emasculated by a woman having equal knowledge of what is considered the dominion of men. Each such event was just another tiresome evening explaining that women could race and, yes, they could even work and build cars too!

On the way over to the Assembly Jane was unusually quiet. Normally Jane would banter along with Elizabeth about how dreaded the evening was and how soon could they leave without being rude. Instead, Jane was fiddling with the hem of her dress. Elizabeth drummed her fingers on the steering wheel of her Jeep as she decided whether to needle her elder sister or not. After watching Jane play with her skirt for a few more moments, she knew some teasing was in order.

“Worried about your impending infamy?” Elizabeth smirked at Jane.

It took a moment for Jane to realize that she’d been addressed. “Sorry. What?” she asked, sheepishly.

“Your impending infamy…your meteoric rise to notoriety as a ‘Lady of Longbourne…does it worry you?”

Jane colored a bit. “It’s not that, at least I don’t think that’s why I’m nervous.”

Elizabeth tsked at her sister. “You’re adorable Jane! Look at you, all blushing and flustered! I have my suspicions why…”

“And pray tell me, oh wise one, what do you think you know?”

“Ha! Since you’ve chosen to be defensive I don’t think, I know! You, sister dear, are hoping for a closer inspection of pin-up boy Bingley and hoping that he’s in turn just a little curious about you.”

Jane was furiously silent for a moment. She’d always hated how Elizabeth could, better than anyone, read her exact feelings. It was unnerving to say the least. Jane always wondered if this uncanny insight was a by-product somehow of being a child prodigy.

After Jane calmed down after being so caught out, she answered, “It is possible, perhaps, that I was looking forward to maybe seeing if Chuck Bingley is coming tonight. Would that really be so terrible?”

“No Jane, not so terrible at all. I just don’t want you getting all gooey over such a playboy.”

Jane sighed. “I know.”

“What?”

Jane said with resignation, “I know that we’ve worked damn hard to get here and that getting all ‘gooey’ would just prove that women are too emotional to run. Geez, Lizzy! It’s not like between you and mom I haven’t heard this a thousand times before.”

Lizzy reached over and patted Jane’s hand. “I know. But we need to be cool as ice out there and ice is never gooey. We can have some fun this evening, but please, keep your head about you tonight, even if Mr. Abercrombie-model-man does deign to bestow his attention on you.”

“Oh Lizzy…you and your ridiculous names for everyone! You know, you can be a real…”

Elizabeth finished Jane’s sentence, “….Bitch. I know. It’s a gift. Sorry. After all the hours spent keeping your head together on the track, it’s hard to let go when we’re not there. When I get a bit too controlling, just tell me to step off and I’ll try.”

“I will.” Jane said and then changed her tone to poorly imitate a small child, “I love you LizzyLou! Thanks for watching out for me little sis.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Call me LizzyLou once more and I’ll stop! Call me Benny, call me Lizzy, call me a bitch but please, for the love of all that’s good, please stop calling me LizzyLou!”

“Yes, Boss.”

“Boss is good.”

They were both laughing and in excellent humor when they arrived at the Meryton Assembly Gala. They’d agreed that the ‘Ladies of Longbourne’ would be ice queens tonight. Calm, cool and collected were the watchwords of the night. People would be curious about them and the less said, the better. They intended to let their actions on the track speak for themselves rather than using notoriety to promote the team. It was going to be a long night.

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Chuck Bingley was sitting at a small table in the lounge area of the main hall looking over the contracts his sister Carrie had brought with her. It always amazed Chuck how focused on her goals his sister was. He was very grateful when she had offered to help him manage his career a few years ago, giving up her position in the LA agency where she’d been a star representative. Carrie had grown tired of the flash and shallowness of LA and instead preferred to just manage Chuck, sometimes traveling with him and more often, staying home and using her talents to keep his face plastered everywhere. It was no accident that this month Chuck’s face could be found on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, an American Express ad, several milk ads, the cover of Men’s Fitness, and as the cover of ITN. Carrie was excellent at negotiations.

These latest contracts were for new cologne and an endorsement deal with a deodorant company. Chuck had just finished reading them and was about to look for his sister when she sidled up next to him and startled him.

“Good God, Carrie! I think I need to get you a bell or something. You scared me half to death.”

Smiling broadly, she answered with sarcasm, “Sorry, Charlie.”

He leaned over and kissed his sister’s cheek. “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Holding up the contracts he said, “I do have a few questions about these though. Do I get to actually see the products first? A few years ago you had me do that soap and I was allergic and I’d hate for something like that to happen again.”

She couldn’t quite suppress her giggling. “I remember that! You were broken out all over with hives!” Carrie quieted her mirth and answered, “Yes, samples of both are being sent tomorrow. These are just drafts of the contracts for you to peruse. The deodorant is some super-hypo-allergenic deal and the fragrance is brand-new. The Dior people tell me they designed it exclusively with you as the inspiration, whatever that means. Honestly, what do people see in your ugly mug?”

Chuck struck an indignant pose. “I am hurt! This ugly mug is what you’ve chosen to sell. I’m as dumb-founded as you are by it all.”

She lightly slapped his arm for mocking her and asked with business-like seriousness, “Now, are you done with those for tonight?”

He nodded and handed her that papers which she tucked into her shoulder bag.

She pulled him up off the stool he’d been occupying. Threading her arm through his, they walked in the direction of the crowd.

Carrie Bingley had only one more object to achieve this evening. She was determined to meet Ricky Fitzwilliam. She’d decided it was time to add another client, and if that client happened to be the handsome Ricky, so much the better!

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Tom Bennet was disgusted. He’d spent the last 36 hours listening to the fawning of Bill Collins while watching the fat, little man leer at his Jane. There was absolutely no way he was going to let this man have anything to do with his team. He’d sell them off one-by-one, go bankrupt, mortgage the house, sell a kidney or do just about anything but let that leach loose near his girls. He needed to have a word with Lucas about looking into the character of the people he was looking to sell his shares to. Bill Collins, Rosings or no, had simply been a disaster.

Tom was standing near the bar, watching for the arrival of his girls. He’d asked Jake and Kyle to keep a look out for them as well. The boys regarded them as their own sisters and would never let any harm come to them. It was early yet and with the crush of people milling around, it would be tough to find them. He’d attempted to call but the age and construction of the building were such that it was entirely a dead zone. He’d most likely have to wait until the dinner when everyone would be seated before he’d be able to find them.

Bill Collins walked by holding what appeared to be the girliest-looking drink ever concocted. Tom was amused that you could fit that many umbrellas in one glass. As long as he could keep Collins in his sightline, he’d feel much better. It was going to be a very long night.

Chapter Five: Bingley leads the field.

Elizabeth had reluctantly handed her keys to the valet and accepted the young man’s arm as she exited her Jeep while Jane was receiving similar treatment on the passenger side. The ladies thanked the valets and made their way up the stairs of the Assembly Hall.

Jane was shaking her head in consternation at Lizzy’s possessiveness. “You act as if every valet is straight from Ferris Bueller! I promise, solemnly promise, that nothing is going to happen your stupid Jeep here in the parking lot.”

Elizabeth went on in a breathless tirade, “Yeah, well, while we’re in there being forced to socialize against our wills helping Pops look for a sponsor, Valet McGee is going to joy-ride my Jeep and when we come back, it’ll have hundreds of dirty, muddy miles on it. You’ll see…I’m not crazy!”

Jane laughed, “No…not crazy per se, just extremely paranoid!”  

“Hey! Just because you’re paranoid….”

“….doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I know….you and Dad and your theories. I use that word loosely- you two are gonna get locked up for your inane ramblings one of these days! Me, Mom and the girls won’t bail you reprobates out should that happen. Just thought I’d give you fair warning.” Jane chided.

They’d reached the end of the concourse and standing just outside the main hall they paused to gather courage.

Elizabeth put her hand on Jane’s shoulder and wearily asked, “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

Jane was Casper-the-ghost white with nervousness but somehow nodded anyhow. “I think tonight I’ll take a page from your book. What is that you always say? I remember, ‘My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.’ So, courage and don’t get gooey. Got it!”

Elizabeth smiled, “Good girl!” Taking hold of her elder sister’s hand she said, “Let’s do this.”

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Chuck Bingley had been watching the people mill about, taking measure of the room. Bingley thoroughly enjoyed these events, his gregarious nature made him easy in large parties and he truly like meeting new people. That many women happened to attend these functions and wished to meet him was a very pleasant by-product of being famous.

However, this evening in particular Bingley felt a little odd. He’d tried to explain what he was feeling to Will, but he was no help as Will Darcy abhorred large gatherings and never felt at ease. Chuck was certain he’d lost or misplaced something. He knew that wasn’t rational, he’d double and triple checked everything earlier. He felt like he needed to find something and had no idea what it might be.

Will found Bingley near the registration table and asked his friend what was wrong.

Chuck whined, “I can’t say Darcy. I really don’t know.”

Darcy inspected Bingley’s face, looking for any signs of over-indulgence. “Still? Isn’t it a little early in the evening to be drunk?”

“While I agree that it would be awful early to be drunk, I can assure you I’m not! I’d think that you, of all people, should know me better than that by now!” Chuck cried out with no little indignation.

Darcy rolled his eyes and tried to assuage his friend. “Alright. Point taken. You do have to concede that you’ve been rambling on tonight about this feeling you’re having and, really, even you have to admit it sounds ridiculous.”

A petulant Chuck answered, “Ridiculous or not, that doesn’t make it any less so.”

After a moment of thought, Darcy, attempting to lighten his friend’s sullen mood queried, “So then, is this great missing thing vegetable or mineral? Bigger than a breadbox?”

“You’re an ass; you know that right, Darcy? Here I am, on some sort of quest for my soul, and you begin a game of twenty questions. Thanks a lot, pal.”

Darcy, nonplussed, wryly answered, “So, we can cross off ‘sense of humor’ from things you’re looking for off the list.”

Bingley was about to answer when a flash of midnight blue swirled before his eyes and rendered him momentarily without the power of speech. Chuck, without a word, followed in the direction he believed it went, leaving Darcy standing alone and dumbfounded.

Chuck wasn’t certain of what he’d seen. All he knew was that he needed to find out what it was or he would regret it. He wound his way through the crowd, avoiding small talk as best he could. Chuck, like many drivers, was not a very tall man; he’d never much cared until now when he couldn’t see above the fray. There were not many things he envied Darcy for, but at this moment, he certainly wished he had his friend’s stature. Bingley had worked his way through the entirety of the main hall and was growing frustrated in his search when, to his left, he glimpsed the radiant swirl again.

This time, he was prepared. He set off at once and, now knowing which direction he needed to go, easily caught up with his midnight blue vision. Chuck stopped his pursuit when he was standing about three feet behind the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was wearing a shimmering gown of rich, dark blue that set off her porcelain skin to an amazing advantage. Long, blonde hair which, though cliché, could only be described as spun gold cascaded down her back in soft waves. Her figure, from what he could see, was very pleasing. Being no taller than he, she seemed to fit her frame and her legs were long and shapely which only added to her good qualities. Bingley was captivated and began to fervently pray that she would turn around and be as beautiful as he imagined her to be. What he’d seen so far certainly was promising.

Elizabeth had watched Chuck Bingley’s progress through the room and when he had stopped behind Jane, she inwardly sighed in frustration because she knew there was no hope for her sister’s resolution to not be ‘gooey’. Elizabeth silently caught Jane’s attention and nodded for Jane to turn around.

Much has been written over the years about love at first sight. It’s a story as old as man himself. I will not tarry here and describe the exaltations of Chuck Bingley or how Jane Bennet’s heart skipped and she was unable to breathe. These are all things that we can readily assume, for they did, happen. What is important to note here is that each recognized in that moment something that the other had unknowingly sought. The air between them was palpably electric. Chuck Bingley, without a word, held out his hand in question. In answer, Jane Bennet accepted it and together they went to the dance floor.

Elizabeth stood by and watched in amazement. Despite knowing pairing up with the competition to be a bad idea, she could not help but smile. Jane and Chuck looked splendid together. Each was smiling with enough wattage to light up New York itself. As long as Jane took care to guard her heart, what could be the harm in dancing with Chuck? She pondered a moment and decided she’d best not borrow trouble before it happened. Elizabeth would have a talk with her sister later, but, for now, she’d just enjoy the evening and continue to avoid her father and Bill Collins.

Darcy had also watched Bingley. He should have known all along that it had been a woman that was the cause of Chuck’s distraction. Will believed he recognized her, but from his distance, he could not be positive. He almost preferred that Bingley had been drunk.

Over the years, Chuck Bingley had been through a long succession of ‘girlfriends’. While Darcy was loathe to call his friend a ‘womanizer’, that was nonetheless what he was. The only thing that saved Bingley from being completely nefarious was Chuck’s intent to find true love and his soul-mate. Being famous, rich, handsome and always on the move only exacerbated the problem. In each town, every appearance and all events, he’d find a new angel that he was sure to be ‘the one’. It was becoming tiresome to constantly be his chaperone and making certain some hanger-on didn’t destroy his life.

Darcy noted the blonde dancing with Bingley. He’d need to make certain Chuck took every precaution to not get involved. Will was thinking about enlisting Carrie’s aid in the cause when the soft sound of laughter caught his ear. He turned and saw his hazel-eyed wonder laughing at him.

“She can’t actually be laughing at me? Can she? Damn, she is!” Will chided himself. Her eyes flashed recognition and she nodded at him as she returned to the conversation she was having with Kyle Long. Darcy mustered up what courage he could and made his was over to them.

Kyle smiled and greeted the newcomer, “Hello there!”

Will stood dumbly silent.

Elizabeth found this highly amusing. “Good evening. This here,” she motioned to Kyle, “is number 86, Kyle Long of Longbourne.”

Kyle motioned to Elizabeth and said, “And this is Elizabeth ‘Benny’ Bennet, Longbourne’s Head Crew Chief and Pit Boss extraordinaire.”

Darcy was still silent.

“I think, sir, this is where you might take this opportunity to introduce yourself. Or is it that you are so certain that we already know who you are?” Elizabeth smiled broadly as Darcy stood there, stock-still. “Well, I just believe you happen to be in luck, as my associate and I do know who you are: Mr. William Darcy of Pemberley Powersports. Thanks for the introduction, it’s been most enlightening.”

Kyle laughed as Elizabeth grabbed his arm and whispered, “Save me, Collins is coming!”

“Mr. Darcy, you’ll excuse us, won’t you? We have, uh, pressing matters over there.” Kyle said as he pointed in the direction of the bar.

As it finally registered they were leaving, Will found his voice. “Miss Bennet, please excuse my rudeness just now.”

Elizabeth smiled, “Only if you’ll forgive mine. I really need to move. You can stay here or come with, it matters not to me.” She turned to quickly follow Kyle and it took but a second for Darcy to decide to follow.

Tom Bennet was trying his level best to help his daughters evade the company of Bill Collins but the man was relentless in his pursuit of them. When Tom questioned his reasoning, Collins assured him it was only as a means to know Longbourne’s assets better for his report to Kat DeBourgh. On the surface, it seemed logical enough, yet when Collins had referred to his LizzyLou and Jane as assets, it made his skin crawl and his stomach churn. When Bill had caught sight of Elizabeth a moment ago, Tom, standing behind Bill, waved furiously to get Kyle and Lizzy’s attentions. It had worked and they were now moving along. Thankfully, Collins was a short, rotund sort of man who ambled rather than walked along. Tom Bennet had never been so happy to see his daughter disappear into a crowd.

Will had followed on Kyle Long’s heels as Elizabeth led the way to the crowded bar. Upon reaching their destination, Elizabeth dug out her phone and started to scroll through her inbox. Kyle stole it away from her and admonished her for ignoring her father’s directive to have fun.

“But work is fun.” She pouted and Kyle laughed outright.

Darcy had never known anyone else but himself who’d ever felt that way, let alone admit it aloud. He realized he still hadn’t said anything and decided he needed to speak soon before he appeared anymore foolish than he’d already behaved.

Will spoke with a calmness he did not feel. “I like to think so. So few seem to agree with us though, Miss Bennet.”

Mistaking Darcy’s demeanor for condescension, she goaded him with her reply, “Well I suppose it’s a small comfort to know you can admit you share an opinion with a mere woman.”

“Miss Bennet, I am sorry. I am exceedingly poor at press conferences and didn’t think through what I said before I said it. I know you must think I’m some sort of chauvinistic idiot, but I swear to you I’m not. I meant no offense and hope you accept my apologies.”

Elizabeth scrutinized Darcy’s face, looking into his eyes for traces of sincerity. He seemed to mean what he said and while the face value of the apology was well and good, the deeper meaning was found wanting.

“Thank you Mr. Darcy for your apology. I assume this must be difficult for you and I thank you for your trouble. You don’t know me, or my sister, for that matter and as that’s the case, you were very wrong to speak about us in such a manner. You’ve offered your apology for what you said, but you’ve not admitted you’re wrong. We will be finishing the Cup series in March, along with everyone else.”

Darcy cringed as she spoke. “I suppose I should add that I’m an appalling poor speaker nearly everywhere. I was wrong Miss Bennet, very wrong and I am very, very sorry to have offended you and your sister. I have no doubt that you are tenacious enough to do what must be done.”

Kyle had been watching the conversation go back and forth and he’d found it very humorous. This man flat-out flustered the unflappable Benny! Kyle could no longer help himself and felt the need to interject. “Tenacious? That’s an excellent description…however, we have a few others that you might like to….”

Elizabeth held her hand up directly in Kyle’s face, “Shut it now Long!”

Kyle chuckled, “Yes, Boss. If you two will excuse me, Collins is way over there with Tom and I’ve just spotted Alison, so Benny, if I don’t go now….”

“Get outta here! You’d better tell Alison I send my love. You do know she deserves better than a rat like you?” Elizabeth teased.

“Yes she does, but what can I say? She loves me! See ya tomorrow Boss!” Kyle said as he waved goodbye.

Will watched the younger man walk away and could not help but feel a small sense of relief at Alison’s existence. “So, Miss Bennet, if I may ask, how did they come to call you Benny?”

She smiled as she thought about it. “Well, I was, well am, a tomboy at heart and Benny just sort of stuck at school. When I came to work at Longbourne, Andy just sort of kept it going.”

“Andy?”

“Andy Barber. Damn fine Crew Chief and the man who taught me how to be the frightening bitch I am today.”

Darcy smiled back at Elizabeth’s comment. She spent a moment just looking at the man standing before her. In her earlier anger, she’d not really noticed how handsome he was. Will had warm, expressive brown eyes, an unruly mop of dark brown curls that looked like he’d attempted to tame this evening, he was tall seemed to be athletically fit rather than lanky and when he smiled, which was something Elizabeth presumed was rare, he was well beyond handsome. His smile, and the dimples that accompanied it, had unnerved her and she did not like that feeling at all.

Will said shyly, “While I might say formidable, Miss Bennet, I don’t know that I’d agree about the other…”

Elizabeth took that to be a compliment and thought, “Okay, this isn’t so bad…he’s not the devil incarnate…you can be polite.” As he was waving the proverbial flag of truce, she could do no less and replied, “That’s because you don’t know me. Mr. Darcy, please, call me Benny or Elizabeth.”

Darcy noticed her shift in tone. “Alright then, Elizabeth. Would you please call me either Will or Darcy? Mr. Darcy sounds so….”

“Formal? Stuffy? Old?” she asked with mischief.

“I was going to say like my grandfather but those work too.”

Elizabeth was about to say something else when she became distracted by something moving towards them. Darcy turned to see what the problem was and for his trouble saw the oddest little man poking his way across the dance floor while Tom Bennet was waving his arms above his head like a madman.

Will questioned with audible concern, “Elizabeth, what on earth is going on?”

Elizabeth had no time for explanation, “I need to move again…now!”

Without saying a word, Darcy grabbed her hand and led her through the crowd, frequently looking over his shoulder to gage the little man’s position. After several minutes of working their way from room to room, he led her to the dance floor just as the song changed.

 

~Home~

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The NARO Road of Pride and Prejudice by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License