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Tracey's "Action and Reaction" is a modern day adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Set in Ottawa, Canada, Elizabeth works for the government and Darcy is in publishing. It's not Jane Austen to the letter (as the author says herself), but it most definitely captures the spirit. Elizabeth has a temper all right, but as in the original, she's honest, has high morals and, in the end, appears to be very loving indeed.


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Action and Reaction
[WIP NC17]

Chapter I

"I can't believe you talked me into this Lizzy," Jane said standing nervously in Netherfield's ballroom, attending Charles Bingley's famous August long weekend party.

"Jane, he can afford one or two crashers, I'm sure we're not the only ones. Besides, it's my birthday and I've always wanted a party like this," Lizzy giggled as she snatched two champagne cocktails from the tray of a passing server.

"You're not actually going to drink that?" Jane asked nervously. It was one thing to crash a party, but to consume the fare provided for real guests was unpardonable.

"Not both of them," Lizzy quipped, "One is for you."

"Oh no, I'm not touching anything."

"I don't care if you nurse it all night, just hold onto it. We have to at least try to blend in," Lizzy explained, placing the glass in Jane's hand.

This was not easy to do, though, for Jane and Elizabeth Bennet were strikingly beautiful young women who could only blend in on the cover of Vogue. Though they'd been tucked in the corner of the ballroom since their arrival, every man had noticed them, including the host and his best friend, William Darcy.

"Darcy, do you know those ladies? Heavenly creatures, especially the blonde," Charles asked.

"You mean you don't know? Isn't this your party?" Darcy countered disbelievingly. He was always surprised at Charles's laissez-faire attitude.

"Caroline could have invited them."

They both looked over to Caroline and then back at the enigmatic beauties and instantly shook their heads. They knew too much of Caroline's own vanity to believe that possibility.

"Well, let's go find out who they are," Charles proclaimed eagerly.

Darcy didn't accompany his friend but observed at a distance in order to intercede if things got ugly, or worse and much more likely, if Charles was swept off his feet by devious gold-diggers. Darcy figured these ladies were on the prowl to catch themselves a rich man.

Charles was a dot com millionnaire in Ottawa, proudly known as Silicon Valley North by the locals. He happened to sell his stocks at the right time and while most of that industry realed from the market beatings, he was able to enjoy the fruits of his labour and good timing.

Upon approaching the ladies, Charles decided on an active approach.

"Excuse me, but would you like to dance?"

Jane was astonished, but couldn't help being pleased, having already noticed the handsome man from across the room. She hadn't intended to interact with anyone, but his welcoming face and startlingly bright smile relaxed her wariness.

Lizzy gave her a thumbs-up as she was led to the dance floor, a gesture not lost on Darcy.

After politely asking the name of the goddess in his arms, he again questioned her as innocently as possible, "Who are you here with tonight?"

"Um, well," Jane looked at his face uncomfortably, questioning his intent, but for some reason she felt she could trust him.

"To be honest... please don't tell anyone...but we crashed. We've never done anything like this before but it's my sister Lizzy's 24th birthday," Jane confessed. She then explained how Lizzy had returned early from two-months of backpacking in Europe and was quite disappointed when her friends weren't available to celebrate, so she thought this party would be great fun.

"I just came to keep an eye on her. Please don't tell anyone. Can we say we came with you? I've only sipped on a little champagne. I won't have anything else, I swear. We'll leave as soon as I can convince Lizzy," Jane rambled, terrified of the consequences.

"No! Don't leave," Charles urged and followed simply with, "Jane...I'm Charles Bingley."

Jane's knees nearly gave out with this revelation, but she needn't have worried. He'd never heard such an honest and delightful excuse in his life, and she was so stricken with guilt he couldn't help but become more enraptured with her. He quickly insisted that she and Lizzy were now belatedly invited guests.

Darcy was not so trusting of them, and while Charles wooed Jane, he made his way over to Lizzy, intent on intimidating her into departing.

"Looks like they were made for each other," Darcy said, casually nodding to the couple on the dance floor, laying his trap.

"Yes, they do," Lizzy said non-committally to the imposing yet gorgeous being standing next to her. She would normally have flirted with such a tall, dark and handsome example of the male species, but she didn't quite trust the look in his dark eyes.

"Has she known him long?" Darcy asked, consciously not using Charles's name. Although who wouldn't know who the host was?

Immediately suspicious, Lizzy quickly ascertained that she should truly be on her guard.

"Who wants to know?" she asked pertly.

He was staggered by her directness, unaccustomed to being questioned by a woman. Usually they were as non-confrontational as possible with the multi- millionaire, for if Charles Bingley and his new money were fine fish to catch, William Darcy's old money was a trap-full of lobster. Darcy's family fortune, originally from Ottawa's lumber industry, had only grown exponentially since Canada's confederation in 1867. He had continued the family's success upon entering the publishing business. He was used to getting attention, respect and deference. This lady surprised him.

Thinking over what he'd actually asked, however, he realized the question wasn't exactly innocent party chatter.

"Forgive me. I'm Darcy, Charles's friend." He extended his hand and at once noticed her firm grip, again so unlike those readily submissive women he typically encountered.

Darcy; William Darcy? Charles; Charles Bingley? Oh my God help me, Lizzy thought trying to keep calm upon hearing his name.

"Oh yes...Darcy. Charles has mentioned you before," Lizzy lied with a steady voice. Well, I'm not exactly lying, she reasoned, I'm sure Charles would have mentioned Darcy to someone before.

"So has she known him long?" he asked again.

"Not too long...just long enough for him to convince us to come here tonight," Lizzy said, feeling like she was being lured in with a fishing rod.

"Oh, really," Darcy said with interest. I've caught her! Too bad, because she's quite lovely...but then again, aren't all the vacuous, shallow ones?

Charles and Jane noticed the interplay between the two and the host immediately knew he was needed. In no time, he was by Darcy's side.

"Lizzy! Happy 24th birthday! Glad you could make it back from Europe in time! Jane and I were afraid you'd miss this bash and I so wanted you to celebrate here. Tell me all about your travels. You look so tanned! Darcy, can you fetch the ladies more champagne?" Charles requested directly and immediately turned to the women to continue chatting.

Darcy obliged, somewhat in shock. Why would Charles make that stuff up? He said he'd no clue who they were and he'd never forget inviting those two. Why would he save face for them?

By the time he'd returned, the three were conversing famously, laughing as Lizzy regaled them with her language blunders in Europe.

Charles officially introduced them to William Darcy, explaining his friend's preference to use his last name. After a polite but abrupt, "Nice to meet you" he remained silent, never leaving Charles's side. Lizzy thought him supremely rude and introduced herself as Elizabeth. "Lizzy" was reserved for friends. If the host had no issues with them, why should he?

Out of nowhere, Charles cocked his head and said, "Do either of you girls swing?"

Jane and Darcy simultaneously responded with an incredulous, "What?"

Lizzy, on the other hand, gave an eager, "Yes!"

Two pairs of disbelieving eyes shot to Lizzy's face and both persons repeated an even more incredulous, "What?"

But Charles took her hand and headed to the dance floor where they proceeded to perform an energetic Lindy Hop.

Jane couldn't help but blush and laugh at her assumption, but she'd never seen Lizzy swing dance. Darcy was heartily embarrassed at his strong reaction and preposterous misinterpretation of Charles's invitation, but as proud as he was, he couldn't help but share the chuckle with Jane.

He quickly became mesmerized by Lizzy's dancing ability. Charles lifted and twisted her at a rapid pace which she easily matched. Her eyes sparkled and her smile gave a child-like spirit to a not-so-child-like body. In her pink gingham three-quarter length pants and simple cotton tank top she was the picture of summer fun. She was playful and had impeccable rhythm making Darcy wonder if this matched her bedroom proclivities as well. He was aghast at his uncontrolled thoughts, but they haunted him throughout the evening as Lizzy became a favourite amongst the men on the dance floor.

Darcy would not allow himself to be charmed by a pretty (well, to be honest, gorgeous) woman, and continued to think of her as an opportunistic party- crasher. He could not, however, continue to think of her as vacuous, for he'd heard some of her thoughtful conversations as well as her biting comments to any man who deigned to condescendingly tease her. It had greatly amused him.

Darcy finally admitted to himself that he was being charmed and decided the best way to break the spell was to escape from where it was being cast. He ventured to the patio to take a few deep breaths, allowing the cool night air to soothe his fiery libido.

Unfortunately for him, a certain lady followed.

Caroline Bingley had been persistent in her attentions to Darcy since returning from design school in Paris. Three months ago, he'd been briefly enamoured, thinking she'd changed from the nasty, catty Caroline of the past, but he quickly realized it had all been a ploy. He ended the relationship. She did not.

So there they stood, Darcy avoiding a kiss on his lips only to have an obvious red mark on his cheek. He politely argued with the diva and regretted not being able to tell her off as he'd like to...but she was Charles's sister.

Lizzy took a break from the dancing and as she stood in the open doorway to the patio, noticed Darcy with the lady. She couldn't help but eavesdrop. Though Darcy had not impressed her, she sympathized with him in this situation. That alone would not induce her to act; but perhaps if she saved him from an evening of misery, he may look more kindly on her and Jane.

With a resolve that surprised her, she confidently marched towards the couple.

"My own Sweet William, there you are! I've been looking all over for you," she said wrapping her arms around his torso.

Thankfully, Darcy was a quick study and eased his arm around her shoulder in return. Lizzy continued lest he didn't completely catch her drift.

"You know, a girlfriend could get jealous when her man is out here alone with a lipstick smudge and a woman by his side; fortunately, I trust you implicitly." She paused. "Are you going to introduce me?"

Reaching up to wipe the lipstick off his cheek, Lizzy looked into Darcy's eyes. He saw her devilish gleam and swore he'd never been so thankful or bewitched in his life.

"Of course Elizabeth," he began, returning her smile. "This is Caroline, Charles's sister."

"Oh, then I won't be jealous. Who would be so silly as to hit on her brother's best friend? It could get messy," Lizzy said, hitting the bull's eye.

"Indeed," Caroline sneered. "A pleasure, I'm sure, Elizabeth. How long have you two been dating?"

"A couple of weeks," he spoke before Lizzy could be caught in the lie.

"But it was love at first sight," Lizzy said, snuggling into Darcy's solid chest only to find herself thrilled by his woodsy scent and rock hard torso. She bit her lip, trying not to entangle phony emotions with real ones. She decided it was time to break up this little party.

"Sweetie, we haven't danced all night. I think it's time we went back in," she said moving away slightly to clear her mind of certain randy thoughts.

"Whatever you wish, my love," he responded, taking her hand and bidding adieu to the oh-so-Parisienne Caroline.

As they walked away, Lizzy stretched up to reach Darcy's ear and whispered, "Do you think she bought it?"

"I don't know," he murmured back boldly, "but I know what would convince her..."

Darcy turned to face the eyes of a lady who perfectly comprehended his meaning.

He had only intended the kiss to be tender and light; endearing but intimate. However, when his lips touched hers, he immediately tasted her sweetness and exhilarated in her tenderness. He deepened it just a touch and upon feeling the increased pressure, Lizzy gently sucked his lower lip in response. They both lost it. Whatever distrust they had for each other was temporarily forgotten in the blissful headiness of a sexually charged kiss. When they finally parted, almost a minute later, Lizzy was stroking Darcy's cheek with one hand while the other was immersed in his thick, pitch-black curls. Darcy had managed to enfold her tightly into his body, relishing her voluptuous curves pressed firmly against him.

They stood stunned at what they had unleashed. Finally, Lizzy cleared her throat, swallowed hard and whispered in a shaky voice, "Guess that probably convinced her."

Darcy slowly nodded in agreement, unable to release his gaze from her twinkling eyes. He'd deal with the consequences later. "Yes...I think... that...worked."

There was no need to see Caroline's reaction. It no doubt mirrored theirs. As they turned to re-enter the house, Darcy instinctively captured her hand whereupon they both caught the astonished faces of Charles and Jane.

Chapter I, Part II

Lizzy placed a single finger over her lips to indicate to the other couple that any commentary would be a bad idea. Darcy nodded in agreement at Lizzy's gesture and asked Charles in a hushed, determined tone, "We'll explain in private."

Charles led them to a small parlour off the main corridor and shut the door. Once in the room, Lizzy released her hand from Darcy and stood facing the three. For some unknown reason, Darcy felt a twinge of disappointment from the action. He immediately shrugged it off as hormonally charged silliness.

"Let me explain since I'm the one who started it," Lizzy began.

Darcy was about to protest but she raised her hand to stop any comment, "No Darcy. This was my doing. I saw you there with what's her name? Caroline? You looked really uncomfortable and I've been in that situation before. I couldn't help but overhear. You looked like you didn't quite know how to handle her...or that you were holding something back. If I was in that situation I would have just told her to Fu-" "Lizzy," Jane interrupted.

"Scr-"

"Lizzy," Jane chastised again.

"Get the hell away from me...there Jane is that alright?" Lizzy said frustrated by her sister's discomfort with cursing. It was adorable to hear Jane say, "fuddle duddle" but she didn't like being censored. Charles held in a chuckle over their sisterly bickering.

"I could have handled the situation just fine, Elizabeth, but I suspect you wanted to be some kind of heroine," Darcy concluded correctly but there was no way Lizzy was going to admit to that...not totally anyway.

"Well, you weren't doing a very good job, were you?" she retorted pointedly and faced the others. "I suppose Darcy didn't think she bought the routine...maybe I'm not believable as his girlfriend, so he suggested some stronger proof."

"Strong! You two were lip-locked for an eternity. Were you just acting?" Charles teased.

"Well, we may have gotten carried away," Darcy began defensively, "She was rather assertive."

"Assertive, me? Give me a break," Lizzy choked back a laugh, "You're the one who wouldn't stop."

"Me? Me? Forget it. Forget it all. I didn't want to be a part of this. You thrust yourself upon me and I was caught in the situation. I hate lying. I never lie," Darcy said indignantly. " Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence," she muttered sarcastically under her breath.

"What?" he snapped, thinking she was making fun of him.

"Nothing, just an old saying that sort of fits you," Lizzy retorted.

"Listen, you might be okay with lying. You seem to do it frequently enough, but it's not my style. I regret going along with it," Darcy said angrily, roughly running his fingers through his hair.

"Okay, okay you two...forget about what happened," Charles intervened before it got ugly. "Now, how did you leave it with Caroline. What did you say?"

Charles was trying to make sense of the situation. He knew his friend Darcy too well to not notice how he reacted to this woman. With few exceptions, Charles had never seen Darcy lose his composure. He was steady, constant, almost serene, until now. Within one evening, this lady had agitated him with her audacity in crashing a party, had shocked him with her quick-thinking and had floored him with a kiss. Elizabeth Bennet had gotten under his skin and was giving him a severe itch, one that Charles wanted to ensure Darcy kept scratching. At the moment, it may have looked like animosity, but the sparks flying when those two connected left Charles without a doubt of their attraction. Darcy would need a little help- it wasn't in his nature to surrender- but Charles was ready to sit back and enjoy the show with a little push every once in a while if needed.

Darcy thought aloud. "Well, I suppose we left her after talking about dancing."

"Good then," Charles interceded immediately, intent on ushering them all out of the room and back to the party as quickly as possible,"That's what you'll have to do, at least for a little while."

"Charles, I think I might just leave," Darcy said suddenly looking uncomfortable. He was tired of the evening. He never really enjoyed such gatherings but put up with them for the sake of his best friend, who adored them. He'd rather be amongst close friends at a corner table in a quiet restaurant or at home alone for that matter. This situation with Elizabeth disturbed him as well. Here was Aphrodite standing before him; her walk was elegant and alluring, her smile was dazzling, her eyes were vibrant with energy and her mind was sharp. But her ability to use that mind to formulate falsehoods was terrifying. He didn't trust her and he didn't totally trust himself with her. If he hadn't been on his guard right away, he may have fallen hard; instead he knew he was attracted to the outer package but doubted the quality of what was inside. He felt his initial assessment was accurate - she was a woman out to possess a man of large fortune. He was determined it wouldn't be him.

"No, look Darcy," she said lifting her hands in contrition. "You stay, I'll leave. I know you've figured out that we're here under false pretenses anyway, we might as well put our tails between our legs and go."

"Well Darce, are you ready to face Caroline alone? Ready to explain away a girlfriend? Dumped her already? Ready to deal with Caro's sympathy the rest of the night? She may be my sister, but I know how she is with you and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy," Charles said hoping to keep these two together, but more importantly, hoping to keep Jane in his presence a little longer. "Alright, alright. We'll do what we need to do tonight and I'll tell Caroline tomorrow," Darcy said, "unless you'd rather not act anymore, Elizabeth?"

"I suppose I put you in this situation, I should help you out, "she said resignedly.

"Oh good, I'm glad we finally got this resolved," Jane finally spoke up. She had watched the circumstances unfold silently and was trying to reconcile her sister's earlier magnetic reaction to Darcy, to her acerbic attitude towards the man now. She realized that both of Lizzy's reactions were passionate and that if they were to be in each other's company, fireworks were a sure bet. She wasn't sure about Darcy's condescending attitude yet, but she was confident in Lizzy's ability to disarm him.

Charles instructed the two to stay in the parlour about five minutes after he and Jane departed, to keep up the charade of a couple who couldn't seem to get enough of each other. Darcy scoffed but Charles insisted. He then proceeded to give strict instructions to the band to play only slow songs for the next half- hour. He needed to keep those two occupied while he got to know Jane better.

The couple in the parlour fidgeted around the room, avoiding each other's eyes, uncomfortable with the position in which they'd put themselves. Lizzy picked up a small vase for a detailed inspection while Darcy analyzed a painting on the wall - anything to avoid conversation. When Darcy's watch alarm went off, signaling five minutes was up, Lizzy rolled her eyes but bit her lip to hold back any "anal retentive" comment that might escape. Keep a truce Lizzy, at least for the rest of the night.

Darcy led her to the dance floor under the watchful eye of Caroline, as well as a few other curious observers. Darcy rarely danced so his presence with this new lady piqued the interest of partygoers who knew his disposition.

Lizzy noticed the attention and felt somewhat discomforted especially when she was having conflicting emotions about the man in her arms. The strength of that kiss wouldn't leave her mind but neither would his disdainful behaviour towards her. Finally, she realized she couldn't keep quiet.

"We should really have some conversation to make this more believable, or do you intend to ignore me until your punishment is through?"

She actually managed a small smile from the man.

"It's no punishment, talk away if you'd like."

"Well, we could chit-chat about how Charles really knows how to throw a great party or I could ask you what you do for a living, but I already know that. Who doesn't? So if you'd like, feel free to ask me a question," she volunteered.

He pondered this for several moments and she was ready to roll her eyes again in exasperation when he finally asked, "What do you and Jane do for a living?"

He felt her answers would help him confirm his conclusions.

"I'm a protocol officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs. I work in the section that takes care of visits from foreign dignitaries to Ottawa and sometimes other parts of Canada. We do the logistics and make sure there are no cultural faux-pas. I've worked there full-time for two years and before that, part-time while I was in university," she explained excitedly. She really loved her work and it showed on her face.

"And Jane's a dentist," Lizzy added. "She has a clinic with two other doctors in the south end of the city."

Darcy was totally taken by surprise. These ladies were both gainfully employed, in highly desirable jobs, particularly for their age.

"How old is Jane?" he asked thinking she was the younger sister.

"She's 27. I know, she looks about 20. Some of her clients worry when they see her but luckily she specializes in children's dentistry. They think anyone over 14 is ancient."

Darcy began to doubt his initial assessment about the two. Although they were not in his economic and social sphere, they both had responsible, productive careers. A protocol officer, he thought, and just as he was about to relax, he gave her position a sinister slant. Ah, he thought, it makes sense now. Always in contact with powerful, successful men. Quite convenient.

"So do you go to many of these types of parties for your job?" he asked.

"A few. They're a lot stuffier than this one though, and usually I'm in work mode," Lizzy explained.

Working the room, I'm sure, he thought.

"And how do you deal with party-crashers?" he asked with a self-satisfied smirk.

"Ha, ha, very funny, Mr. Darcy.," Lizzy responded icily, "We usually take them away in a police cruiser. But then again, the type of person who party-crashes an international political function doesn't usually have benevolent intentions."

"And you would have me believe your intentions are benevolent?" Darcy asked brazenly.

"What do you mean? I don't have any ulterior motives. I just wanted to have fun tonight at the best party in Ottawa," she said defensively.

She really did seem sincere but why did he not really believe her? The truth was Darcy rarely trusted anyone, particularly a woman who lied to get into a party and lied to and for him for no good reason. They may have been little white lies in her book, but sometimes those representated a person's true character.

As his interest in the lady and his distrust of her bounced back and forth in his mind like a tennis ball, he did not bother to respond to her inquiry. She was again frustrated with the man's distance and decided she'd had enough. She didn't need this kind of treatment. In Darcy, there was obviously a man of much intensity beneath the surface- she grasped that from their kiss- but he was so rigid in his behaviour that it didn't seem worth trying to figure him out. She was ready to leave and never see him again, no matter how good those few moments in his arms were. After all, they were meaningless, an act for the benefit of an obsessive woman.

"Listen Darcy, I think I'm ready to go. I just wanted to apologize for putting my nose where it didn't belong. You probably will never see me again so no worries about me repeating the episode. I'll just get Jane and we'll be off," she said, not really sure why she was disappointed.

"Yes, well, thank you for apologizing," he said uncomfortably, walking her off the dance floor. He happened to notice Caroline's eagle eye still upon him and couldn't resist the urge to hold onto Lizzy's hand and lift it to his lips in a gallant farewell.

"Goodbye Elizabeth," he said gazing into her vivid eyes one last time. She smiled warmly, knowing that it was for Caroline's benefit, though strangely wishing it wasn't.

He watched her gentle sway as she weaved through the crowd and for a split second considered running after her, to hell with his doubts. But Darcy was not a spontaneous man, the earlier kiss being an aberration, and his self-control was too important to him to let a strange woman weave her web around him...for all he knew the lovely Miss Elizabeth Bennet could have the scruples of a black widow.

Chapter II

While Lizzy and Darcy continued their lives separately during the course of the next few weeks, such was not the case for Charles and Jane. They were both the trusting sort; open, honest and kind. They did not look at people with a critical eye as the aforementioned pair was prone to do, and though they were sometimes taken in by less-than-honourable characters, they more often than not benefited from their optimist view of the world. Being both of this ilk, they had no difficulty in admitting their mutual attraction.

As their relationship deepened, Darcy heard Lizzy's name mentioned occasionally by Charles, while the same could be said about Darcy when Jane talked to Lizzy. Each time this happened, a spasm of regret pinched at both their souls. Neither understood why and they certainly weren't ready to delve into their psyches to figure it out.

Jane never pressed Lizzy about the kiss she'd witnessed. Nothing had seemed to come of it and Lizzy certainly wasn't dwelling on it. She had continued on with her life as if nothing had happened. Darcy was not a man she'd normally see in her circle of acquaintances and although Lizzy often thought of the sensations he'd bestowed upon her, she never told anyone else.

Darcy was in his office one Tuesday afternoon when Charles called. "Are you using the box on Friday night?"

"No, I wasn't aware that anything was going on. The hockey pre-season hasn't started yet, has it? It's getting earlier and earlier every year," Darcy mused.

"No, no. I wanted to go to the Dave Matthews concert and I wanted to make sure you weren't bringing anyone," Charles asked.

"Dave Matthews, no, I don't have any plans to go." "Great. Jane, Lizzy and I are going to go," he paused and added cautiously, "Say, did you want to join us? You haven't seen the ladies in awhile."

Charles felt he had been wrong about leaving Darcy to his own volition as the man hadn't made a move toward getting in contact with Lizzy. In fact, Charles was a little afraid that they'd argued even more while dancing that night three weeks ago. However, he wasn't ready to give up on them yet, and he knew the jewel he'd found in the older Bennet sister. He just wanted his friend to be equally as happy. It was time for that little push.

Darcy contemplated the idea carefully. He couldn't deny he wanted to see Lizzy again but he also didn't want her to think he was truly interested. He believed he had enough self-control but if she was the type of woman to offer herself, he was only human...and he would dearly like to replace the memory of his last intimate relation. Caroline. Ugh.

With that in mind, he spoke. "I think I'll take you up on the offer, but I'll have to meet you there. I have a dinner meeting on Friday."

"A dinner meeting on Friday? Are you insane, man? You have to get a life," Charles laughed at his friend's dedication to his business. Charles knew he was lucky to be a self-made success, not just because of his fortune, but because it had no purse strings attached to anyone else. While his family had been comfortable, he had eclipsed his father's wealth very easily. He could coast on his past achievements for the rest of his life and his family would still admire him.

Darcy, on the other hand, had the albatross of several generations of success around his neck, combined with a formidable determination to succeed in his own right. He took life far too seriously in Charles's opinion and he wanted Darcy to enjoy himself more. Perhaps a certain attractive brunette could loosen him up.

"Some people do work you know," Darcy said wryly teasing his friend.

"I suppose, but I'll try to get you out of that nasty habit someday," he said laughing, "I'll see you on Friday."

Little did Charles know that Darcy actually wanted to be pushed, if not towards Lizzy, at least towards someone. As he neared the age of 31, Darcy felt he was ready for a serious commitment. In truth, he was lonely. Yes, he had had several dalliances in the past with woman who were considered accomplished, but never had there been any kind of long-lasting spark. He was looking for someone to enliven his life but also someone who understood his responsibilities, respected, challenged and appreciated his intelligence, and accepted his idiosyncrasies. He had not, as of yet, met anyone who fulfilled the role.

He'd always been honest in his previous relationships. He wasn't interested in a life partner; he wanted a temporary companion. He'd inform women of this fact from the onset. It was a woman's forgetfulness that affected the outcome of their companionship. When a relationship evolved to a more-than-platonic situation, Darcy again ensured the woman understood his resolution not to be tied down to anyone. However, he soon learned that women have a way of equating sexual intercourse to some sort of permanency and before you know it, they're asking you to pick out a china pattern. Darcy would promptly end their hopes. Over time this led to his reputation being affected. While Darcy was a catch, he was aloof and non-committal. That description didn't bother him; however, embittered women soon began to spread rumours of his broken promises and untrustworthiness. He would rather have no relationship than to face this dishonesty. Darcy stopped dating and stopped trusting women to be rational.

In his 30th year, he began to feel he needed the warmth of a woman again, not just for companionship, but something far more permanent. He knew there was a void in his life; he tried to fill it with work, hobbies, travel and even some daredevil adventures. These activities were only masking the obvious: he needed love.

His brief relationship with Caroline showed his desperation. She knew him well enough, as they had been acquainted for many years, and he grabbed onto this minor detail as a basis for a potential relationship. He had always been wary of Caroline in the past, but upon her return from Paris, she had shared with him her excitement for design in lieu of her usual deferential attitude to him and snide commentary of their circle of friends. He was quite surprised by her energy and determination to succeed and he thought perhaps she was someone who would be suitable for him. He soon learned she was as mercenary as Anna Nicole Smith.

One couldn't blame Caroline for believing she stood a chance. She knew Darcy's modus operandi when dating women. He hadn't given her the "we will just be friends" speech so for once in her acquaintance with the man she played hard to get, and to her surprise, it worked. However, her derisive attitude to others could not be quashed, her true nature could not be concealed, and Darcy opened his eyes and ended whatever possibility existed between them.

His initial instinct told him that Elizabeth Bennet was exactly the same as all the other women in his life, but for the fact that she kissed like a demon and felt like white heat in his arms. There was chemistry between them, of that he had no doubt, and she had a delightful energy about her, but he couldn't get past what appeared to be a dishonest streak that was extremely threatening to him.

Whatever his doubts, he wasn't yet prepared to avoid her entirely, she was far too enticing a prospect. Perhaps she was one of those women who could differentiate between a permanent relationship and great sex. His only fear with this lady was the possibility that he couldn't.

~ * ~

Caroline had a way of ruining Charles's best laid plans. Though he'd tried to keep it quiet, she discovered their activity and insisted upon coming to the show. He really didn't have a plausible excuse to say no to her, so there she was, sitting in the box suite, with Jane and Lizzy.

Caroline's suspicions were peaked as she'd heard neither hide nor hair about Darcy and Lizzy since the first evening she'd seen them together. She'd kept her distance, all the while strategizing her next move. She wouldn't give up that easily. Although they'd seemed intimate enough at the party, she thought perhaps he'd tired of her. She could see for sure tonight.

"Elizabeth, isn't Darcy coming?" she asked with a sugary intonation.

"Yeah, he's supposed to," she said nonchalantly, more interested in watching the stage for signs of the band as the opening act had finished about ten minutes earlier.

"Yes, right," Charles added quickly, "I think he said he had a business engagement, isn't that right Lizzy?"

She casually turned at her name being mentioned again and then absorbed what Charles had asked her. She noticed he was shifting his eyes fitfully from her to Caroline, and suddenly it all added up. The realization of the question hit her. With a steady nod, she pondered the fact that the self-righteous William "I Never Lie" Darcy hadn't bothered to tell Caroline the truth. He'd been using Lizzy as a shield from the woman, perpetuating the lie; or perhaps she was so inconsequential in the life of a high-powered business man that she just slipped his mind? Ha! Highly unlikely, she thought, remembering his response when they kissed.

He was to arrive at any moment and probably had no idea Caroline was going to be here. All that talk about hating to lie! Well, maybe I'll help him, maybe I won't, Lizzy thought, enjoying a sense of power. She headed to the mini-bar to grab a Haagen Dazs creamsicle. A few minutes later, Darcy entered his box suite to the wide eyes of two very curious women, one with a simpering smile, the other provocatively licking an ice cream.

Lizzy was mightily impressed with the way Mr. Darcy filled out a business suit. The charcoal grey custom-tailored jacket fell smoothly from his immense shoulders and his crisp white linen shirt clung firmly to his chest. The trousers draped perfectly down his leg and she was dying for him to take off his jacket and turn around. That body has boardroom table sprawled all over it, thought Lizzy mischievously.

For his part, Darcy could have stared at Lizzy for the rest of the evening. Her mid-thigh dark denim skirt fit in all the right places without looking tarty and her fitted black top had a rather plunging v-neck to reveal a lovely line of cleavage. Then there was the manner in which she was eating the creamsicle. He unconsciously licked his lips and she couldn't help but ask archly, "Want some?"

He pointedly ignored the question, although he couldn't control the slight smile tugging at the sides of his mouth. He pulled his eyes away to focus on what he saw as his first challenge of the evening.

"Caroline, I didn't know you were a fan," he said. "Oh I love Dan Matthews," she replied earnestly.

"Dave Matthews," both Lizzy and Darcy corrected. "Yes, well, I'm never good with names. I like the music," Caroline said defensively.

As obvious as Caroline's true interest was, Darcy couldn't help but feel sheepish. Though he was loathe to admit it, he had come to see Lizzy far more than to hear the band. He also knew he needed to talk to her before all hell broke loose. He had no time for idle chatter.

"Jane, Charles, glad to see you ...Elizabeth, could I see you outside for a moment?"

"Of course Darcy, anything for you," she responded, sounding suspiciously like Caroline.

This might prove difficult, Darcy thought as he took her arm and led her outside the suite.

With the door firmly shut, Darcy turned to Lizzy looking slightly remorseful, a fairly new emotion for him. Lizzy could tell he was uncomfortable. She thoroughly enjoyed his squirming.

"I...I haven't talked to Caroline since the night of the party," Darcy began. "Did you say anything? Does she know?"

Lizzy wrapped her mouth round the creamsicle and made him wait. She would never be so vulgar as to talk with her mouth full. She knew perfectly well she was teasing him and had no qualms in doing so.

Darcy was sweating it, not only because of her delayed response, but also for the strong desire at that moment to be a Haagen Dazs ice cream bar. She was enjoying her treat far too much and his boxers were starting to feel constricting. He realized she was playing him, but that didn't stop him from being hypnotized by her full red lips surrounding the length of the half-eaten creamsicle. He breathed deeply trying to steady himself. Finally, she let him off the hook.

"No, Darcy, as far as she knows we're still an item. I just can't believe your nerve. What were you thinking? I know we run in different circles but what if I had a boyfriend? Things get around you know, and it could have affected my life. I realize it was my fault to begin with but we agreed you'd talk to her."

She was getting a little agitated and was flinging the creamsicle in various directions. Darcy was half-expecting it to smack his suit jacket but tried to remain calm while he defended himself against her charges. He would not apologize for not finishing what she had started, even though the truth was that it had been damn convenient for him the last few weeks.

"You don't understand. It was just so relaxing. She hasn't called since the party. I've gotten my life back. I didn't think we'd all be together again," he struggled with his explanation. "Forget it," Lizzy said harshly before he could continue with his pitiful excuses. The man showed no true remorse whatsoever. "I'll put up with it for one more night. Tomorrow, you tell her, okay? In the meantime, we'll enjoy the concert."

She thought for a moment and then added, "You can drive me home and that's when we'll 'fight and break up'. Until then, I'll keep pretending we're a couple." "Thank you," Darcy said looking terribly relieved.

"But no kissing okay?" Lizzy added her caveat. She didn't want to deal with that sensation again from someone whose attitude she disliked profoundly. Darcy nodded like a soldier at attention.

"Here, have some," Lizzy said shoving the ice cream towards his mouth. He was startled by her motion and it didn't quite make it all the way in. He attempted to wipe off the excess when Lizzy grabbed his hand.

"Don't," she ordered, then tossed the stick in a nearby garbage can. Her next motion involved mussing his hair.

"Wait, what are you doing? You probably have sticky fingers," he said grabbing her hands in response. Her wrists are so delicate.

"I just thought I'd make it look like we were doing more than talking out here. Let me loosen your tie a bit and I'll take my ponytail out," she explained.

"How come I get all messed and all you do is take out your ponytail? Do I get to muss your hair?" he asked with a crooked smile.

"No."

"Why?"

"Because I'm the one in control here. You have to do what I say," Lizzy stated honestly but with a million-watt grin as she undid his top two buttons. Regardless of her smile, Darcy didn't enjoy being told what to do and moreover, being told that he was not in control. But before he could respond, she grabbed his hand and reentered the suite giggling.

"Oops, I missed a spot," she said, tracing over the ice cream on his lip with her finger and then licking it off as everyone present stared at her action. God she's devious, Darcy thought, highly turned on by her actions...and it scared him to death.

~ * ~

The concert began moments later and conversation was next to impossible for most of the evening. Lizzy lost herself in the music; dancing and jumping, swaying and rocking, singing along and clapping to the beat. Once in awhile she noticed Darcy moving to the rhythm and wondered if he ever relaxed. He had thankfully removed his tie and jacket but still looked so stiff (although she finally got a look at one of the finest asses this side of the Atlantic Ocean). She supposed, coming directly from work, that his formality couldn't be helped, but remembering back to the party, he'd even looked rigid in his khakis and polo shirt. She'd love to loosen him up a bit, get him really tanked or something, but then she'd actually have to like him to do that; and though Lizzy knew she was physically attracted to the man, she wasn't certain she could endure an entire evening with him again.

The familiar notes of one of Lizzy's favourite songs made her heart skip a beat. She screamed in approval with the 15,000 others in attendance and sang along with every word of Crash. She became completely oblivious to anything but the music. This song had always totally turned her on. It was written and sung so sensually, it made her weak. She had imagined herself with an unknown lover so many times, writhing in satisfaction as this ballad played in the background. To actually hear it live, the words and melody washing over her, was a thoroughly thrilling experience. She wasn't aware of anything but the song and she closed her eyes to make the moment more intimate.

Darcy watched her with increasing amazement. She had looked appealing before, swaying and bouncing, but somehow she seemed much more attuned to the rhythm now. She had closed her eyes, lifted her arms above her head and slowly began gyrating. He watched as she made love to the music. The idea of touching her was irresistible; he wanted to feel this moment with her, sense a little bit of what it might be like to be with her. His sense of control was slipping. He wanted to turn her around and plant a deep, throbbing kiss onto her lips as he'd done that one time before.

He knew she had said no kissing but, Christ, if he was turned on as a mere observer, what would a real boyfriend do? I have to play the part, don't I? Caroline might be suspicious otherwise, right? Though his head told him he shouldn't let anything happen, particularly the possibility of a woman taking possession of his senses, his body was pointedly ignoring this thought process. A pure carnal reaction can throw a man's sense of decorum out the window. The William Darcy of four weeks ago would have considered this response insupportable but the new raging inferno version was ready to take the risk, just for the chance to feel this woman's luscious curves and arousing energy again.

He moved to her and spoke into her ear, "Shall we dance?"

Without an answer he slowly pressed against her from behind, wrapping his arms about her waist, duplicating her movements. He expected her to start at his touch but instead, she dropped one arm to encircle his and leaned back slightly to allow her head to rest against his firm chest. He inhaled the sweet scent of her hair and nearly fell over the edge of reason. He couldn't help but imagine that their charade was real, if only for one song.

As the melody progressed, Lizzy remained in her own erotic dreamworld and slowly brought her arms down to her side, clutching her skirt tightly for the moment her favourite lines were sung.

Hike up your skirt a little more and show your world to me.

It was an instinctive movement, obeying the command of the song. Darcy held his breath until he realized that motion was as far as she would go in her interpretation of the lyrics. Without even knowing it, she was toying with his ability to steel himself. He removed her from his hold but gently stroked his fingers up and down her arms, relishing the softness of her skin but putting a little distance between them to regain his composure.

Lizzy had been lost in a euphoric haze when Darcy had put his arms around her. He'd done exactly what her fantasy had called for and though it took her a moment to realize where she was and what he was doing; she didn't want to let her dream die. He felt too good, the song was too magical and the moment allowed her this liberty.

She was hard-pressed to break the spell even when the song ended but the reality of the situation was that this man hadn't exactly been prince charming so far. She wasn't going to let him believe he'd turned her to mush. He really hadn't. He had been in the right place at the right time...with the right touch, the right smell and the right movement. After steadying her breathing, she reluctantly pulled away from the heat of his body and turned to give him a stern stare.

Glancing over his shoulder, she noticed Caroline entering the suite. She hadn't even been there for the moment! I've got to stop this. He's an arrogant, presumptuous snob who thinks I'm easy and I've probably encouraged it because I'm attracted to his body...his muscular, powerful, perfect body... Stop it izzy. Get yourself together!

She pulled him down by the collar and spoke with clenched teeth into his ear, "Don't ever do that again."

He was shocked at her statement but it also brought him back to his reality. What had he been thinking? What had possessed him to make a pass at her in such a way? Because that's exactly what it was. He was turned on, she was totally unaware, and he went for it. However, she had permitted his touch. Now, the tone of her voice indicated seething anger. She was utterly confusing. He could never have guessed that the anger wasn't truly directed at him, but herself. As much as William Darcy hated to lose control, so did Elizabeth Bennet.

On the surface, Lizzy may have not appeared to care about such things, but she was determined to keep command of herself and any situation she entered. She could laugh and joke and act like she'd not a care in the world but the reality was that deep within her was a need for self-sufficiency, and she wasn't a woman who would let go of her autonomy without a fight. Darcy had infiltrated her reverie when she had let her guard down and she was shaken with her lack of response. She knew he didn't trust her and she had to make sure she could trust herself.

"My mistake, Elizabeth. It won't happen again," Darcy replied gravely into her ear. He'd no clue what to think of her demeanour. Frankly, it frightened him a little, harkening back to his thought that underneath her bubbly surface, she might truly be a part of the arachnid family.

Jane and Charles had been too wrapped up in each other to notice much of the exchange although they did notice how seamlessly Lizzy and Darcy swayed together. Caroline saw them talking to each other but she could not detect their anger as their faces were hidden from her view. Their incensed reactions to each other had gone unnoticed.

Lizzy remained tense for the rest of the concert and was almost relieved when it was over. She regretted her plan to have him drive her home and nearly bent to Caroline's wishes when she suggested that Darcy take her with them. It wouldn't help the situation though, so she regrettably entered his car alone for the long drive back into town with him.

Darcy was ordinarily the party who gave the silent treatment to others and though he didn't know Elizabeth that well, he had concluded that she was usually a happier person. Indeed, she generally was of a lighthearted temperament, a person who let uncomfortable situations roll over her like water off a duck's back, so she was aggravated even further by her mood. This man, practically a total stranger, made her blood boil with his words and actions. She didn't know why he provoked her in such a way, he just did.

Darcy was no stranger to matches of will, he was the master of that game but her silence frustrated him to no end. He finally couldn't take it any longer.

"Elizabeth, can we forget that happened?"

She was just beginning to calm down when the question was posed and she was having a hard time keeping any sense of peace.

"You just shouldn't have done it, you know," she said with a bite to her voice, pointing her finger at him. It just stirred too much in me, she thought.

"You're right, as I said earlier, it won't happen again," he responded as coldly. I can't let it happen again, I might not stop.

Why was her agitation so disturbing to him? He had no clue, but again that desire to hold her in his arms was creeping through his mind and body as powerfully as an operating room anesthetic, numbing all other sensation and thought. He really didn't want to forget what had happened, regardless of what he said. Even now, his body was alert to her presence; the memory of her rhythmically pressing against him seared his skin. He didn't understand why she wasn't flattered by his advances. Most women, hell, any woman he'd ever shown any kind of interest had always jumped at the chance.

He remained quiet for a few more minutes, trying to resolve his frustration at her anger. He could take it no more. "Was what I did all that wrong? You seemed to enjoy it. You certainly didn't pull away."

"I was wrapped up in the song. I was hardly even conscious of what you were doing! You are so full of yourself!" Lizzy sputtered out quickly, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of knowing she was turned on by his touch.

"Like hell you weren't conscious. I felt you move closer to me. You liked it, I could tell," Darcy responded aggressively. His opinion was rarely challenged and his ego was not happy with her denial.

"Does a man's ego generally run the size of his bank account because, Mr. Darcy, yours is massive," Lizzy accused.

Darcy felt responding to this charge would be beneath him. She was obviously not going to admit to her attraction so why should he continue to try to rationalize the situation. This time it was Lizzy who couldn't stand the silence.

"Besides, you're confusing the whole issue here. You know what I said earlier about not touching," Lizzy countered. He didn't deserve to know how she felt. Besides if she admitted she enjoyed his touch what then? Did he want her to stroke his ego...and then who knows what else?

"You didn't say no touching, you said no kissing," Darcy corrected her.

"Oh, whatever, Darcy, you know what I meant."

"Didn't I do what was only natural for a boyfriend? Caroline might have been suspicious otherwise," he added hoping the Caroline angle sounded believable.

"Caroline wasn't there and you are not my boyfriend," Lizzy responded curtly.

"What do you mean she wasn't there?" he asked, confused.

"I don't know where she was but when I turned to you after the song was over she was coming into the suite. Your whole show was for naught. Besides, who cares if she was there or not? Won't it make a break-up more believable if we weren't touching? It's just gone too far," Lizzy said getting more and more agitated, flaying her hands about in frustration.

"You're right. I'll take care of it tomorrow. You'll have nothing to worry about," he responded decisively.

"So, like you said, we'll just forget tonight ever happened," Lizzy surmised.

"Yes," was all the reply she was to receive from the now tight-lipped Darcy. As they drove on in silence, both began to feel contrite about their harsh words but neither was ready to admit it.

Upon reaching her condo, Lizzy realized she would be solo tonight as Jane was staying at Charles's place for the first time. She turned to open her car door and was surprised when Darcy did the same. That moment of astonishment gave him time to get around to the other side and help her out.

"You don't have to do this," she said with a mixture of exasperation and a sudden sense of amusement.

"Nonsense, I'm just seeing you to your door safely. Any man would," Darcy replied honestly.

"No, Darcy, not any man, but thank you," she responded finding that even after their tension, his formal manners touched her, just as his kiss on her hand had done that night at the party. She graced him with a small smile and he was relieved that he had been able to diffuse some of her anger.

"I hope I didn't ruin your concert," he said before leaving her to enter her Sandy Hill townhouse.

"Ruin my concert? You give yourself too much credit Darcy," she said with a wry smile as she walked into her home turning slightly to add, "Goodnight."

"Goodnight Elizabeth," he replied, for once being relieved by a back-handed compliment.

Chapter III

Elizabeth was on pins and needles through the next week, desperate to know if Darcy had actually talked to Caroline. She felt like her life was on hold, though she had no real reason for it. Except through Charles, she and Darcy had no reason to ever interact. The rumour mill in his circle of friends certainly wouldn't affect the gossip around her water cooler. Caroline certainly wouldn't spread anything about her and Darcy, but she just hated the fact there were outside forces interfering in her life. Why, oh, why had she ever thought to be helpful in the first place? She damned her impulsive behaviour and swore she'd overcome that particular personality flaw in the future.

By Wednesday, she could take no more suspense and asked Jane about it while they ate dinner in their townhouse.

"Haven't a clue, Lizzy," Jane responded as she pored over her dentistry association newsletter. "Caroline's been away all week on some kind of buying trip. She intends to open her own design studio and store and is buying the fabrics for it. She'll be away well into next week."

"Do you know if Darcy saw her before then?" Lizzy pushed.

"I really don't know, but you can ask him yourself on Saturday," Jane replied.

"What do you mean on Saturday?" "Well, I told Charles about the family Labour Day barbecue and he asked if his family could come too. No one's available so he's bringing Darcy along. I told him it would be okay. You know Mom, the more he merrier," Jane answered.

"Why does this man keep popping into my life? Do he and Charles do this on purpose?" Lizzy asked rhetorically. She just couldn't seem to go anywhere without him appearing, if not in the flesh, at least in her mind, and it was bothering her that he'd had that effect.

Jane had to bite her lip upon hearing her sister's comments. Yes, she thought, Charles did do this on purpose. Charles thought Darcy was completely hung up on Lizzy Bennet, but too proud and stubborn to pursue her. Darcy never had to pursue women, especially when they were in a lower economic stratum than he.

Though Jane had noticed his attraction, she did worry if Darcy would be serious about her little sister. Jane had also discerned that Lizzy's attraction to the man was growing, whether she wanted it to or not. The notion did not necessarily please Jane. As close as they were, she knew Lizzy could be quite na´ve in some ways. Her sister was mature, but had had a dearth of serious relationships in her 24 years. Darcy was nearly seven years older and as Charles had mentioned, never had to worry about a lady's interest. She didn't want to see her sister get hurt and the potential was there if this possible relationship progressed.

For the moment, she'd let Charles have his way, but if Darcy so much as distressed Lizzy's baby toe, she would let him know about it. Jane was calm, kind and cool, 99 percent of the time, but heaven protect those in her path for that one remaining percentage point.

"Just be happy you'll have a chance to speak with him. You'll get your info right from the horse's mouth," Jane said, trying to avoid Lizzy's eyes lest they betray her thoughts.

"You mean the horse's ass," Lizzy quipped as she left Jane to her reading.

~ * ~

The Bennets lived just outside of Ottawa, in Navan, a small farming community. Lizzy's father worked in Canada's capital as a senior archivist for the National Archives of Canada, but had decided a number of years back he'd prefer a quiet neighbourhood in the country to anything he could find in Ottawa proper. They had a lovely home on a few acres of land, backing onto forest. Thomas and Fanny shared a love of gardening and landscaping so the yard was full of nooks and crannies, benches, swings and hiding places for those who didn't want to be observed.

When Darcy arrived with Charles on Saturday, Lizzy certainly didn't need to wait for a chance to speak with him. He had scoped her out within the first three minutes. She had been playing with the youngsters, mostly her cousins, the Gardiners, and upon his discovery, she was getting tickled incessantly. No matter the butterflies in Darcy's stomach about what he'd have to confess, Lizzy was able to make him smile by virtue of her spirited eyes and effervescent giggle.

Perhaps I've misjudged her completely, he thought as he watched her roll around on the lawn with no hesitancy, green stains on the knees of her pants and bits of grass in her hair. After a few minutes, Lizzy finally observed herself being observed and managed to disentangle her body from the motley crew of half-pints.

"Don't worry, I'll get each and every one of you back later," she threatened, shaking her finger -- but with an enthusiastic chuckle, thereby negating any attempt at intimidation. Turning to Darcy, she cocked her head, and said in a blasé manner, "I heard you were to grace us with your presence today. To what do we owe the pleasure?"

"I believe you're well aware of why I'm here," he replied.

"For my father's fabulous burgers, or maybe the chance to hang around with my two teenaged sisters? Care to discuss the positive attributes of Freddie Prinze Jr. with them?" Lizzy asked with an impish smirk.

"Who's Freddie Prinze Jr.?" Darcy asked suspiciously, sensing he was the butt of a private joke.

"Never mind, Darcy. I'm just kidding. I suppose you'd like to tell me that you haven't talked to Caroline yet," she said casually, motioning him to a bench near a willow tree on the side yard.

Lizzy knew her mother's proclivity for jumping to incorrect conclusions when a man was within five feet of her daughters, so she decided to bring Darcy to a fairly secluded area. Darcy noticed the charming grounds but was too preoccupied with Elizabeth's correct assumption to say anything.

"How did you know?" he asked incredulously.

"If you had done the deed you wouldn't have felt the need to seek me out, now would you?" Lizzy said smugly, but then softened. "Of course, I have to admire your courage if this is the case. I believe you've figured out that I have a temper."

"I did notice something of the sort," he replied carefully. Although they had left each other on less than stellar terms, he was hoping to rectify that situation.

"Well, may I ask why you haven't just called her? I know she's away on a trip but I assume she has a cell phone."

"What would I say to her?" Darcy asked bluntly. "Hi Caroline, I just dumped my girlfriend and I thought I'd let you know. You saw what she's like. She'd be on the tarmac heading back before I could hang up from the call."

"So you're going to tell her you dumped me? How big of you! I guess I get to live with the honour of being dumped in my non-existent relationship by the great William Darcy," Lizzy said snippily, choosing to ignore his valid point about telling Caroline.

"You started this fabrication. I get to finish it any way I want," Darcy said crossing his arms in defiance, frustrated at her ability to provoke him.

"I'm glad you feel so sheepish about not doing anything yet," Lizzy shook her head and raised her hands in frustration. What a man! Couldn't he at least feel a little sorry for what he'd done? She had had enough of his curt answers with no consideration for her emotions. It was beginning to feel like a real relationship, where she was being strung along. She rose to leave but he grabbed her wrist firmly.

Darcy should have been apologetic at this moment. He should have held a straight face and given her remarks their due response. However, he was too busy being amused as she left the bench for he was becoming markedly aware of her habit of talking with her hands, particularly when agitated. He was quite diverted with his observation, and she responded to the look on his face by fiercely yanking her hand away.

"Laugh away, Darcy, just leave me alone," she said, truly hurt by his lack of compassion. She had no desire to be within 50 feet of the man, regardless of his handsome features. He was heartless, cruel and egotistical. He didn't have a sympathetic bone in his body.

Darcy was not going to let her get away that easily. He firmly grabbed her waist and sat her back down on the bench, using his strength to keep hold of her.

"Wait, please. I'm not laughing at you, really," he said seriously. "I honestly feel awful about this. I wish it was over with. I do understand your point of view."

She looked down at his hands about her waist and back to his face, pursing her lips. He removed his hands in obedience of her unspoken command. This seemed to appease her enough to lighten her mood.

"You're an extremely frustrating man, do you know that?" Lizzy asked.

"I pride myself on it," he replied with a smile just big enough to reveal a pair of darling dimples. Why was this man so friggin' gorgeous, Lizzy thought to herself. Would I accept his excuses so easily if he wasn't?

"You know, I deal with the likes of you all the time in my job. I shouldn't let you bother me." "Really? So what's 'the likes of me' and how do you deal them?" he asked, genuinely curious about her answer.

"I deal with difficult men. In fact, we have a delegation arriving this week with some extremely demanding requests. However, most of the time, I just have to charm them. Sometimes I think they hired me because I'm young with a relatively pretty face. Some men are just putty when confronted with that," she explained.

"You think I'm putty then?" he asked sardonically, wondering if she knew she was revealing too much of her character. If she was truly out to capture him or any other man, she was explaining her methods fairly bluntly. However, she related her abilities so casually, he began to doubt if she was really that artful. Perhaps she was just good at her job.

He had also wanted to tell her that she was more than just "relatively pretty", but worried that would be pushing the volatile Miss Bennet. He'd have to let it pass for the moment.

"Oh, no, I wouldn't say that about you. You're too distrustful of everyone and everything," Elizabeth said honestly.

"Yes," he agreed. "But you haven't really answered how you deal with difficult men."

Lizzy thought for a moment before answering. "I generally try to diffuse tense or stressful situations by flattery, pure and simple, but I don't make it obvious. You see, even if I can't stand a person, there's usually some redeeming quality about them, even if superficial. I try to notice it and remark upon it when the time is right, when it's required. I seem to be able to do that fairly easily when I'm at work, but it doesn't always seem to translate into my personal life. I think I'm a little too straightforward then," she said knowingly.

"So give me an example of how you'd deal with me in such a situation. How would you flatter me?" he teased, arching his brow.

Lizzy placed a finger over a slight smile and thought about his question. She wanted to answer honestly but she really did have trouble doing this in her personal life. She tried to step away from her attraction to him and just act on her animosity.

"Well, instead of focusing on the negative, like your conceit, I might tell you what a regal air you have or how your fine posture accentuates your clothing," she began tentatively, trying to be lighthearted but pointedly giving a dig. "You think I'm conceited?" he asked in mock surprise. It wasn't the first time he'd been accused of that; however, the accusation coming from her was highly surprising. If she was interested in him, which regardless of her hot and cold reactions, he believed she was, talking of his conceit would not help to win him over.

Lizzy lowered her eyes, somewhat shy about insulting him to his face but also satisfied that she did. She refrained from answering so he continued.

"And do they buy this?"

"Darcy, these people are diplomats and ambassadors. They go into this field for the glory of it; they love the protocol, the hierarchy, the rules and their status within the international community. Ninety-five percent of these people eat it up. You learn who doesn't like it quickly enough and those are the ones you can usually work with best. The others play the game right along with you," she answered truthfully.

"So you're a professional liar," he concluded. He knew her ability to fib was a finely honed skill, but she seemed to show no hesitation in admitting these talents to him.

"I suppose you could call it that, but I'd say it's more like putting a positive spin on the situation. I know the difference between that and telling the truth. I know when the truth is important and when it wouldn't matter one way or the other. Like the night of the party, I thought I could diffuse a difficult situation by making up a simple little story. I heard enough of your argument to know it was worth a shot so I automatically tried. Remember, I wasn't the one who suggested the ki-"

Suddenly, Lizzy stopped talking as if embarrassed that she brought up that moment. In fact, she lowered her face and averted her eyes. Darcy saw her colour rising and was highly amused that this lady, one who had kissed him passionately and had swayed provocatively to music with him, would blush at just the mention of one of these actions. It produced a delightfully warm sensation in his heart. Deciding to let her off the hook, he gently agreed, "No, you weren't."

His casual concurrence relieved her from her moment of shyness. She pursued her argument regarding her diplomacy. "Don't you ever have to do anything like that in your business?"

"No, I don't usually kiss people like that in my business," he responded with a teasing smile. He wasn't ready to let her off the hook from her initial embarrassing comment.

Lizzy laughed, willing to acknowledge the absurdity. He's being so much nicer today, she thought.

"You know what I mean, Darcy," she said, with a jaunty cock of her head.

"Yes, I do. I suppose I possibly avoid the truth, from time to time, but I like to be as honest as possible. In fact if I can't say anything agreeable, I tend not to talk at all," he admitted.

"Oh, aren't you polite. Shall I call you Saint Darcy? Do you turn the other cheek as well?" Lizzy asked mockingly.

"Far from it. You must notice I don't talk very much. If I did, I would get into serious trouble on a regular basis," he smiled slightly, thinking of many situations where he wisely kept his thoughts to himself.

"I guess you hide your real opinion by not saying anything and I hide mine by avoiding it and talking about something else. I don't think we're so very different after all," Lizzy summed up succinctly, looking directly into Darcy's brown eyes. Deep brown eyes, she noticed. She felt his distrust and wanted him to know she wasn't someone who prevaricated on a regular basis.

"I suppose we aren't." Darcy agreed with her deduction and was trapped by the twinkle of pleasure in her look. She was pleased with making her point, he could tell, and he had to admit, she wound the facts around her argument very well indeed. She also looked breathtaking in the late afternoon sun and he felt the urge to reach out and touch the softness of her cheek. He began to lift his hand to do just that when a cry came from a window in the house.

"Lizzeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

"What is that?" Darcy asked, irked at being interrupted.

"That is Lydia, my sister. I think I'm needed," Lizzy said, getting off the bench somewhat reluctantly. She and Darcy were finally reaching an understanding. He may have even softened his opinion of her and realized that she was someone worthy of respect. Lydia had impeccable timing, as usual.

Darcy was as frustrated as Lizzy at that particular moment. He had half a mind to delay her again. Instead, he proceeded to observe her bouncing figure in her snug khaki clam diggers and crisp navy cotton top, as she ran towards the house, waving mid-stride to an acquaintance among the partygoers, and nearly running over one of her young cousins. Luckily, she'd turned in time to jump straight over him, laugh heartily at her near miss, and hurry into the house to help her sister. He decided that he'd been mistaken about her mercenary motives and he was bound and determined to ask her on a real date, before the day was out. She was too natural for him to doubt her genuineness and he desperately wanted to have her in his arms again.

~ * ~

"What's up Lydia?" Lizzy asked walking into her sister's sty of a room.

"So who's the hottie you were hiding with behind the willow tree?" Lydia asked cheekily. Her goodie-two-shoes sister never had guys around and then all of a sudden she brings a sexy beast to the barbecue. Lydia needed to know details. "That man was Darcy, Charles's friend and I was not hiding him behind the tree. We were just talking. We've met before and he doesn't know many people here," Lizzy said, wondering why she was giving so many excuses to her little sister.

"So you're keeping the Mr. Darcy to yourself? Sounds to me like you've got it bad," Lydia said in a moment of insightfulness, light-years beyond her actual intellect.

"No, in fact he's been pretty rude to me until today. I'd just as soon he weren't here. I'm about the only other person he knows and he's not terribly sociable. He might bother me for the rest of the day if Jane and Charles get cozy," Lizzy answered, not totally believing her own words. However, Lydia was known to tell all to their mother so it was best that she didn't reveal too much.

"So can I have a crack at him?" Lydia asked.

"The man's nearly 31, you're barely 17, no you can't have a crack at him. You're pretty much considered jail bait and I don't think he's your type anyway," Lizzy answered incredulous of her little sister's thought process.

"I'll have you know the age of consent in this country is 14," Lydia countered.

"I don't even want to know why you know that fact," Lizzy said, shaking her head in disbelief.

"What does age matter if it's truly love and he's filthy rich?"

"Oh, Lydia, please stop. Trust me, you won't like him," Lizzy said, waving the subject away with her hand. "What did you call me up here for anyway?"

Lizzy knew Lydia probably didn't have any reason to warrant her screeching; however, her younger sister proceeded to show Lizzy two bikini tops. She wanted Lizzy to suggest which one would be most suitable, as she didn't want to annoy their father. Lizzy rolled her eyes at her 17-year-old sister, who thought she was 25 but acted 13.

"Why are you wearing a bikini top when we're not using the pool?" Lizzy asked.

"They're awesome tops," was Lydia's only reply. It seemed obvious to her.

Lizzy knew Lydia's motive was to show off her ample chest so she hit her where it hurt, "Okay, Britney, wear your skanky bikini top...not a girl, not yet a woman."

"Don't you dare compare me to her!" Lydia nearly burst at the insult. She threw the tops onto a pile on the floor and turned back to Lizzy. "So what should I wear, Miss Priss?"

She was so easy to manipulate, thought Lizzy. "Wear one of your sundresses Lydia, the pink one's nice," she suggested as she left the room in frustration. I guess it wasn't a total waste of time, Lizzy thought. If Lydia hadn't call me, she would have made quite an appearance.

Lydia stuck her tongue out at Lizzy's back and promptly picked out her white spaghetti strap sundress, neglecting to put on a bra beforehand.

~ * ~

Lizzy went to the backyard to find Charlotte, whom she had waved to earlier. Charlotte was a long-time friend; in fact, she was Lizzy and Jane's former babysitter. But as they'd grown older, they'd grown closer.

Charlotte worked as the sales manager for the protocol market at the Château Laurier Hotel, the Grande Dame of Ottawa's lodging market. She'd been in her job for eight years and had helped Lizzy get her first position at Foreign Affairs. Not only were they friends, they worked well together, even with their opposing personalities. Where Lizzy was animated and vibrant, Charlotte had an even- keeled demeanour. She was very calm at all times, although she often let her guard down in Lizzy's presence. She was also extremely observant; it paid to be so in her profession.

"Glad you could make it Charlotte. Are you ready for this week?" Lizzy said, giving her friend a warm hug.

"We're ready, don't worry," Charlotte began. "But their government hasn't paid yet."

"Not again," Lizzy said rubbing her hand over her face in disbelief. The policy for hotels dealing with delegations was to get all the money upfront. Who was to know if an underling would raid the several mini-bar fridges and leave without admitting it? Who could tell when an unstable government suddenly faced a coup and the new regime refused to pay? Hotels, quite rightly, wanted their payment in advance and they'd deal with any extra change afterwards. "Charlotte, if you need help, just let me know."

"Don't worry, I will," she replied smiling. "We won't concern ourselves with that today, though. I want to know about the babe who was staring at you under the willow tree. He couldn't take his eyes off you." "I'm sure Darcy wasn't staring to admire, probably just to find fault," Lizzy replied with a smile to Charlotte's comment. She was secretly pleased at the attention.

"Darcy? You mean William Darcy? I didn't recognize him in casual clothes," Charlotte said with widened eyes. Lizzy knew her well enough to see she was impressed.

"Yes, he should be around here somewhere. Not really his type of event though, he's a bit of a stuffed shirt. Where did he go after I left him?" "Same direction as you. Haven't seen him since," Charlotte said. "So what's going on with you two? He's pretty tony real estate."

"Charlotte, you're a riot. Nothing's going on. We've met twice and we barely get along. We were just straightening out a misunderstanding today," Lizzy explained with a slight shrug of her shoulder.

"Uh-huh. Well, there was no misunderstanding the look he was giving you. His eyes were glued to your assets, lady. Almost started after you when you nearly smashed into Michael. You know sometimes opposites attract, especially when one is tall, dark, handsome, rich and single," Charlotte told her.

"I don't need a handsome, rich man if he's also annoying. Besides, I love my work and I do very well on my own. I don't need his money," Lizzy replied calmly. She knew Charlotte wouldn't be so shallow as to expect Lizzy to go for a man because of his chequebook.

"Oh, sure, you love your job dealing with snobby, self-absorbed diplomats. It's a dream," Charlotte said rolling her eyes, enjoying ribbing her friend.

"If I loved snobby, self-absorbed people, I'd be all over Darcy! No, that's not fair; he's not that bad. But the fact is I do enjoy my job, just as you do, because it's exciting and we get to meet really amazing people. There are plenty of people who would love to be in my shoes," Lizzy answered confidently.

"I'm sure there are but just keep your options open," Charlotte advised.

"I wonder where he got to?" Lizzy thought aloud.

"Why don't you go and find him. Maybe you can help him remove some of that stuffing from his shirt, loosen him up a little," Charlotte teased.

Lizzy laughed at Charlotte's commentary but was also curious to find out if she was right about his interest. She left her friend assuring her that they would certainly see tons of each other during the week to come. Lizzy had been assigned the management of a visiting delegation that was staying at the Château. It was a small Latin American country that didn't have the profile of some other nations. Although Lizzy did her job well, she was still young and didn't usually get the "big" countries, unless she was assisting the lead in the visit. However, it was reassuring the government trusted her enough to organize this group.

Lizzy strolled around the party, politely greeting friends and family. She hadn't had a chance to mingle but she was determined to find Darcy. She would talk to others later but she was confused as to where he might be. She finally headed round to the front of the house where she was arrested with an unimaginable sight.

There, at the base of the front lawn, was Darcy. He waited patiently for four of Lizzy's young cousins to roll down the slope of the hill, and proceeded to lower his body to allow them to climb atop him. He then walked up the small slope, children hanging from every appendage, deposited them at the top and raced back down to the base, whereupon the process started over again.

Lizzy was overcome with Darcy's display of playfulness. This was the last thing she had expected him to be doing. She actually had to swallow hard, holding back a rush of emotion, but then quickly chastised herself for being so silly. However, the view of this imposing man, unabashedly playing with several children, was enough for any woman's estrogen levels to rise. Composing herself, Lizzy finally spoke up. "How easily I can be replaced."

Darcy looked up with an enormous smile. He'd obviously been enjoying himself but his gaze was all for her.

"I suppose I could have waited by the tree," Darcy answered.

"No," Lizzy laughed at his misinterpretation of her comment. "I meant the children have replaced me with you!"

"I don't think I could ever replace you," was his devastating reply.

I don't know if he's more intimidating when he's mean or when he's nice, Lizzy thought as her stomach did somersaults. Even with his disarming comment, she quickly reacted.

"Oh yeah? Hey guys, I see you've found a new friend. Would you rather play with him?" she asked the children who had just made it to the top of the hill on their own steam.

"Lizzy, we like you but Darcy is stronger. He has big muscles," six-year-old Laura replied honestly.

"Yeah Lizzy. You can't carry all of us at the same time," seven-year old Michael piped up.

Four-year old Christina meandered up to Lizzy and summed up shyly, "I like when he holds me."

Lizzy bent down to face her cherubic baby cousin, smiled warmly while grabbing her hands and whispered, "I do too."

Darcy thought he'd heard what Lizzy said but couldn't be sure. Regardless, he was still having fun with the kids and was pleased Lizzy had sought him out. He felt he'd reached a turning point with her earlier and was ready to ask her out. He was fairly sure she would be receptive.

Lizzy rose again and dramatically pointed out to Darcy, "See? Children. They're so fickle. I was once their beloved, now I'm yesterday's news."

"Oh, I'm just a passing fancy. Don't worry," Darcy replied. "So how come you aren't out back with the adults?" Lizzy wondered aloud.

"I find it easier to get to know strangers under the age of 12," was all he was willing to say.

Lizzy nodded in understanding. She had noticed his reserve at Charles's party. It seemed Mr. Darcy wasn't a big mingler.

"Have you resolved whatever was wrong with your sister?" he asked changing the subject.

"Lydia? Don't get me started. I'll just warn you to watch out for her okay? She thinks she's 25, if you get my drift. Don't be surprised if she hits on you. Don't be surprised at anything she does," Lizzy warned.

"How old is she?" Darcy asked concerned about his safety.

"She's 17. Don't worry, I can handle her for the most part," Lizzy assured him.

Darcy smiled and nodded then looked to his shoes and took a deep breath.

"Elizabeth, I was wondering if you-"

"Lizzzzzzzzzzzeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

Darcy inwardly cursed the dreadful screeching and said, "You handle her very well, don't you?"

Rolling her eyes and shrugging her shoulder, Lizzy turned to face her youngest sister who stood at the front door.

"Lizzy, Mom wants you in the kitchen. We need your help!" Lydia called, checking Darcy out and making no effort to hide it. Darcy felt himself turning red, not because he was being given the once-over, but because this young girl kept getting in his way.

"Excuse me again, Darcy. Duty calls." Lizzy pouted becomingly as if reading his mind. "Continue on with your new friends. I'll see you in a bit."

As Lizzy hurried into the house, Darcy's eyes lingered on her disappearing form but he was quickly apprehended by several small hands urging him to return to the bottom of their knoll. He had work to do.

~ * ~

"Lizzy, dear, I need you to chop the onions. You're the only one who doesn't tear up," Fanny said in a flurry as Lizzy entered the kitchen.

"No problem, Mom," Lizzy said immediately getting to work. The sooner this is done, the sooner I can talk to Darcy, she thought. I wonder what he was going to ask? The possibility sent tingles through her body. What a difference an afternoon can make. He was actually being quite charming and to see him with the children gave her goose bumps.

"I'm so pleased for Jane, aren't you girls?" Fanny said looking out the kitchen window to the backyard. "She's finally found someone, and what a find! Lizzy you should take after her! Lord knows you've had plenty of opportunities where you work but you've squandered them all."

Fanny Bennet saw Lizzy's job as one big matchmaking service, a free ride into the realm of the rich and famous for her daughter. She couldn't understand why a girl as pretty as Lizzy wasn't already married and living on the French Riviera.

"She seems to be doing okay now, Mom. You should have seen her under the willow tree with William Darcy," Lydia chimed in, smirking at her unimpressed older sister.

"Oh my Lizzy, why didn't you tell me? How wonderful! How long have you been seeing him? And you haven't mentioned a word of it to me! You didn't want to steal Jane's thunder, I suppose. You two are so good to each other," Fanny fawned on. Fanny was an attractive woman who had borne four lovely daughters, and when she was happy, she just glowed. The kitchen seemed to overflow with her words of praise.

"I know you've always been good at attracting rich men. You just have to learn to keep them. That's been your trouble. Remember that Italian diplomat? Didn't his family own a sports car company? He was quite taken with you too. Remember the flowers, Lydia? A different variation every day. How long did he send those to you...it must have been three weeks. You had him in the palm of your hand. Such a shame he was married! And then there was the Belgian. He was the assistant to the ambassador wasn't he? His family had royal blood if I remember correctly. You tired of him as well. He sent you all those lovely chocolates. Good thing it was Christmas-time and we could give them to guests or we'd have each gained 10 pounds!"

Fanny laughed at her own joke and Lizzy just added an "Uh-huh" where appropriate. No one interrupted Fanny when she was on a roll. She would shush them without needing to take a breath before heading onto her next topic of conversation. It didn't matter that her mother had misconstrued the facts. Lizzy had previously tried to explain each situation several times to no avail. Those men were pretty much stalkers. Both had been in their late forties and wouldn't take no for an answer. One had to be sent back to his country or else face criminal charges. But Fanny lived in her own fantasy world and these men made Lizzy's love life more interesting. It was best for Lizzy to just let her mother get it out of her system, particularly when no one else was there to listen, although most of their family and friends knew exactly what she was like. She'd eventually find another topic after exhausting herself with the first. True to form, Fanny then remarked on the Lucases' awful landscaping and proceeded to explain each fault in great detail.

Unbeknownst to the ladies, Darcy had entered the house to try to locate Lizzy. He was determined to spend more of the afternoon with her to make up for lost time. Upon entering the hallway near the kitchen, he heard Fanny's entire spiel and Lizzy's apparent agreement. His body froze, cast in stone as if seeing the face of Medusa.

As he absorbed the meaning of Fanny's tales, he cursed himself for his own stupidity. Her words were physical blows to his system. He had been such a fool! How had that woman managed to convince him of her genuineness? Just because she was casual amongst friends and family, didn't mean she wasn't capable of ruthlessness when searching for a sugar daddy. Worried that he would be found out, he quickly came to his senses and turned on his heels, high-tailing it out of the house and locating Charles in the backyard. He gave his regrets saying that an urgent business call had come in on his cell phone, and then left the barbecue immediately, getting as far away from Elizabeth Bennet, the person, as possible.

His only problem was that he could not rid himself of Elizabeth Bennet, the fantasy.

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