The NARO Road



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.

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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