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Action & Reaction
[WIP - NC17]

Chapter VIII

When Lizzy returned to work on Monday, the first thing she faced walking into her cubicle was a dozen wilting coral roses. How appropriate, she thought sardonically, dumping them in the trash. She had purposely dressed in her favourite tailored, pin-striped suit trying to rid herself of her dark mood. No such luck.

Not wanting to face the eyes of a group of women who knew she had cancelled out of their party to see the most eligible bachelor in the country, Lizzy planned on remaining at her desk all day. That was her acknowledged reason, but in the far recesses of her mind, somewhere that didn't admit conscious thought, she still held out hope of a phone call, or the delivery of another thoughtful gift with a note of explanation.

As the day wore on, she recognized her wishful thinking was pathetic. She also knew she'd have to leave her desk at some point, particularly because she needed to apologize to Billy for her hasty departure Friday night. She took the long, hesitant walk down the hallway.

When Billy turned to greet her, she was surprised to see him smile. "Elizabeth, it's good to see you're feeling better. I was worried when you left so suddenly."

"Thank you, Billy. Yes, I'm much better," she answered cautiously and somewhat confused. "I'm very sorry about leaving you stranded, but I guess you got home alright?"

"Oh, you didn't leave me stranded. Mr. Darcy explained you weren't well and he'd offered to take me home, which suited me perfectly. Anne and I have a great deal in common, you know. I had the opportunity to spend that much more time with her."

Lizzy was quietly shocked. Never in her wildest imagination had she expected Darcy to cover for her after she'd left. The irony of it all - he was now willing to lie for her. It may have helped her save face with Billy, but it didn't help her equilibrium. Darcy being thoughtful was not what she wanted - she wanted him to be mean, awful and distant. If he wasn't going to call her or be everything she wanted him to be, she didn't want to hear anything positive about him. She wanted all or nothing - and nothing was preferable to help her get over him. She swallowed a lump in her throat at the thought of his gallantry and came back to the conversation.

"Good, good to hear. I'll have to thank Darcy," she answered absently, looking uncomfortably towards the floor.

"Oh, please do. When will you be seeing him again?" Billy asked, thinking he might be able to wrangle another invitation to a social function.

She looked up, realizing she'd probably never see Darcy again. Never. Why does that sound so awful? She managed, "He's out of the country on business for quite a while."

"That's a shame," Billy answered, losing interest in Elizabeth now that he had designs on bigger fish - Anne deBourgh.

"Well, should you ever need an escort at one of these gatherings - particularly if Anne is there - do think of me," he unabashedly added. But both were lost in their own ends of the conversation, and as Lizzy turned to leave, she only managed to mutter an absent, "Yes... yes."

She wished she was six months down the road when the memory of Darcy's hands and lips on her body wasn't fresh, when the sexy depths of his voice didn't keep reverberating in her ears, when his conflicting words didn't keep churning over and over in her brain, when her stomach wasn't nauseous from hurt, and when her heart wasn't so wounded with the knowledge that she'd do just about anything to see him again.

This is so unfair, she thought. He's off traipsing in Australia, probably getting his rocks off with some blonde surfer chick named Suzy or Kerry; someone without a functioning brain cell.

How wrong one woman's thoughts could be...

After a 14 hour flight across a continent and an ocean, sitting next to a 72 year old coot, heading to Australia for the exact delusional designs Lizzy had predetermined for Darcy, the man himself collapsed in his hotel room in Sydney - exhausted, frustrated and broken- hearted.

He knew he had told Jane he wouldn't bother Elizabeth again, but he was disturbed with how he had left things. He had not expressed himself clearly; indeed, he hardly expressed himself at all, but for stupid, misguided remarks in a moment of anger and frustration. He wondered if there was some way he could explain his side, his true feelings - explain how he knew he'd rushed things, and how he had made the absolutely idiotic assumption that she had wanted the same swiftness. He'd understand if she didn't want to see him again. He would have been sick and tired of such treatment had anyone done the same to him. He'd really been despicable and had no one to blame but himself.

He wished he could have the night, hell, their whole relationship, to live over again. He would have handled things so differently. Instead, all the amusing, wonderful memories were overshadowed by catching hell from three women; first Elizabeth, then Jane, then finally, Anne.

Anne had really given it to him after they'd dropped Billy off on Saturday night, as if he needed anyone else to tell him what an idiot he was. "Are you going to thank me for keeping him occupied?" Anne had asked dryly as Billy turned to wave to them from the entrance of his apartment building.

"Hmm?" Darcy had feigned ignorance.

"Oh, come off it Darcy. I saw the two of you, everyone did," she had stated flippantly.Darcy hadn't uttered a word.

"Why didn't you just go with her to the party? I only come to these things if you need me and obviously you didn't." Anne had spoken without malice or jealousy, just curiosity.

"I didn't know they were coming," he had finally answered with as little emotion as possible.

"Ah. Well, what a pleasant surprise for you. Now then, why did she leave so suddenly? Is she waiting for you at Pemberley?" Anne had continued, well on her way to a blistering interrogation.

His only response had been a nasty sideways glance. It told his date all she'd needed to know.

"Did you screw up?" Anne had tried to hold the amusement in her voice, but a snort ruined her vain attempt.

"I don't need your lip, Anne." Darcy's words had been clipped and his voice icy. He did not share her amusement.

"Did she dump you?" Anne had continued. "We are not dating."

"So, she dumped you before you could get anywhere with her - ooh, that's rich. What did you do in the ten minutes you were alone with her?" Anne openly ridiculed him at that point. "Nothing." He had replied to her teasing.

"Maybe that's the problem," Anne quipped, paused for a moment, then added, "Did you assume because you are William Darcy you could get your way, whatever the case may be? This lady rejected you, didn't she? I suppose you got all haughty, kind of like you are right now. Oh, baby, this is good. And you are so hooked. Or are you just wanting her because she won't let you in her pants?"

"Why do women just assume that? Why am I the villain here?" He had finally burst forth with the anger he was holding in. Almost as quickly as it had been emitted, he pushed it back down, but he couldn't help his nostrils from flaring and that vein on his temple from throbbing.

"Ah, two actual sentences. We're progressing."

She had remained quiet for a moment, waiting for more, but to no avail. "You don't want my opinion but I'm going to give it anyway because you're one of the few people in this world I really like. If women assume things about you, perhaps you're sending out the wrong signals. I know you're not a man of many words - as this present conversation is proving - but a few choice ones could help you communicate properly. I don't know the details between you two, you're obviously not going to tell me, but I can hazard a guess. You didn't express yourself appropriately and she was offended. You're not used to that. There are plenty of women who would put up with it but they're not women who really interest you. If you want this woman, you have to be nice, and not just until she's in your bed. I know it's a difficult concept for you, Darcy, but you should give it a try. But first, if she's really worth it, you need to ask her to start over."

Darcy had felt like he'd been punched by her accuracy. But she had one thing wrong and he was ready to point it out.

"I already used my get out of jail free card, Anne." "Oh, god, you need to grow up and realize you can't always get exactly what you want. Maybe it's good you're going away. You have some thinking to do; you need some time to cool your jets, too. She's probably in need of some peace, so leave her alone for a bit. If it's worth it to both of you, you'll reconnect."

As he lay in the expansive California king bed of his hotel suite on Monday night, he knew he wanted more than what Anne had suggested. He didn't want to be away for three weeks or to take time to cool off. He wanted to forget his conversation with Jane and call Elizabeth. He wanted her to want him back, as much as he wanted to be with her. He was not a patient man and he missed her terribly, particularly because he knew he had hurt her.

This man - so efficient at compartmentalizing his entire life - was now overwhelmed with a single, unflinching, never-ending thought - Elizabeth. He didn't want her thinking ill of him, regardless of whether she'd ever want him in her life or not. His agreement with Jane to keep his distance had only resulted in his feeling stuck in limbo - he couldn't get on with his life if Elizabeth didn't know the truth. Mind you, he wasn't certain he could get on with his life even if she did know it.

~ *

In order to get on with her life, Lizzy felt her best plan of attack was to jam pack her work and social schedule. If she wasn't working late, she went to the gym, to the movies or to a restaurant with friends. She even called a male friend or two, hoping there would be a spark... but nothing... not even a flicker. There was only one man whose face, voice and even temperament could fan the flames of emotion inside her, and as far as she knew, he was halfway around the world without an inkling of her longing, and even less of an interest in it.

Lizzy was not the only Bennet sister suffering in silence. Jane had been just as despondent, but neither would discuss their wretched states. They both felt no good would come out of self-pity, and they remained mute about their individual shattered love life. Neither gentleman had contacted them so there was no looking back. Jane followed Lizzy's lead and kept her evenings extremely busy. Darcy managed to wait to phone Elizabeth until the next morning figuring he'd catch her in the evening at home. No answer. That wasn't what he had anticipated and he wasn't prepared to leave a message; there was no way he would warn her that he was trying to call. It would be best to have the element of surprise working for him. However, it wasn't until the next week that he struck pay dirt. Lizzy and Jane had actually succumbed to an evening at home, and as they settled in front of the television, the phone rang. Jane answered, a look of surprise and then disapproval passing over her face. She sounded extremely aloof and was very stingy with her words. She had none of her usual pleasantness; Lizzy thought it may have been a crank call. The voice on the other end held a tinge of desperation and out of politeness, Jane listened. Darcy took a deep breath and took his chances.

"Jane, please hear me out. I know I told you I wouldn't bother Elizabeth but I don't feel we've settled things the night we argued. Neither of us was thinking rationally and when I think back, I believe Elizabeth misunderstood my intentions, or at least the reasons behind my intentions. I need to explain myself. I feel awful about that night. Now that we've both calmed down, I just want her to know what I was really thinking. I'm not comfortable with how we left it."

"Not comfortable," Jane repeated skeptically. She let him stew for a moment as she thought over what was the right thing to do. As much as she would have liked to hang up that phone, she knew it wasn't her choice to make. She'd interfered enough already. She had had second thoughts about her words with Darcy, not in what she said, but in not finding out more about him and his true feelings. She finally responded, "I'll ask Lizzy, but I won't help you."

"I don't expect you to; I understand," Darcy replied. More than you'll ever know.

If anyone had treated Georgiana the way he had treated Elizabeth, he wouldn't have let them within a half of a hemisphere of her either, and the phone cord would have probably been ripped out of the wall socket by now.

Jane placed her hand over the receiver and looked over to Lizzy, concern evident in her face. Lizzy's brow was knitted in confusion.

"It's Darcy. He wants to explain himself. He says he doesn't feel comfortable with how he left things."

At the sound of his name, Lizzy's heart leapt to her throat elated he'd called her from Australia, but not sure she was ready to speak to him. After going over the evolution of their mixed up relationship, she'd realized that as attracted as she was to him, he didn't deserve her. She wasn't even sure who the man was, she'd seen such differing sides of him as to puzzle her exceedingly. She'd thought she was managing rather well, but the knowledge he was on the phone waiting for her made her realize she'd been lying to herself. Instead of getting him out of her thoughts, he had remained firmly planted in them. She knew if she spoke to him, it would only refresh her memory of his kinder moments, particularly because he had the most seductive voice. She knew his almost hypnotic capabilities when on the phone.

She closed her eyes and pressed her lips firmly together, pondering her ability to think clearly when her heart was still so broken and her ego still so tender. After nearly two minutes of waffling, her logical side prevailed and she responded, "He may not feel comfortable with how we parted, but I don't feel comfortable talking with him now."

She stood and walked up the stairs to her room, shutting the door behind her, getting as far away from the phone as possible. She was proud of herself; she had her self-respect and it would help her in the healing process. So why did she feel so rotten?

As Jane relayed the message across the international phone lines, Darcy's heart sunk; he was stunned. Elizabeth had rejected him again; she wouldn't even speak to him. Could he really blame her? She had no faith in him, but then again, what did he ever do to deserve her faith? He racked his brain over what he could have done differently. When he truthfully examined the situation, and himself, he knew what Anne had said was right. He didn't communicate well. He never had to. He had expected her to comply with his wishes because he was William Darcy, and yes, he thought she should have been happy just to have the opportunity to be with him.

What a selfish, egotistical, self-absorbed fool I've been. How dare I expect her to enter into something with so little guarantee of anything beyond sex. After what I'd said, no wonder she ran.

He hadn't treated her seriously enough; he'd treated her like he would have treated any challenge. He was ashamed of his behaviour, particularly because he knew Elizabeth was above that, way above that. She enjoyed the gifts, who wouldn't; she even let herself be swept away for awhile, but she had pulled back, and rightly so. He wanted her to know all these things but he had no idea how to communicate them to her... not that he wasn't willing to say them, the problem now was, she wasn't willing to listen.

He had no idea how to proceed. He'd failed her miserably and couldn't prove himself. William Darcy was beginning to admit defeat for the first time in his life, and never had it seemed so important to succeed. He'd have traded every successful business manoeuvre in his life for the chance to make amends with Elizabeth. He didn't think he could do anything from half-way around the world, but he would try to make a concerted effort to see her as soon as he touched down in Ottawa. The next two weeks were going to be hell.

Jane knocked on Lizzy's door a few minutes after the phone call. The more she thought about Darcy's motivation in calling, the more uncomfortable she was in not revealing her whole conversation with Darcy to Lizzy. He hadn't said much that night, he didn't really defend himself to her, but then, he wasn't the type to do so. Now, he was contacting Lizzy wanting to explain himself. She may not need to encourage him, but she really needed to tell Lizzy about her request for him not to contact her. She had a right to know.

"Can I talk to you for a minute," Jane said once Lizzy had opened her door.

"I'm not really in the mood to chat."

"Well, I just need to tell you a couple of things. I just want you to know about what Darcy and I talked about at the party." Jane wished she had told Lizzy about her argument right away, but it hadn't seemed important at the time. Now, she felt compelled to provide Lizzy any pertinent information about Darcy's interests. Lizzy nodded, ready to listen.

"I had told you I didn't like his answers, mostly because he really didn't want to answer any of my accusations," Jane explained. "But when I accused him of wanting to sleep with you and run off to the other side of the world, he did say that it wasn't his intention to do so."

Lizzy's eyes widened in wonder, shock and hope. "He said that?"

"Yes, but he wouldn't elaborate any further. He basically said it wasn't any of my business. And I suppose he's right. His feelings aren't my business. So I told him I really didn't care about his feelings, I cared about yours and I didn't think he was a very healthy addition to your life. I told him that I thought it best if he didn't contact you."

Jane stopped at this point, realizing that perhaps she'd stepped over the line of sisterly protection. Before Lizzy could speak, she felt compelled to apologize. "I'm sorry. I really didn't have the right to stop your contact with him, I know that now, but at the time you had scared me half to death. I didn't know what he'd done to you."

As confused as Lizzy's own emotions were about her sister's prodigious interference, she knew why Jane reacted as she had. She probably would have done the same - no, scratch that - she would have done a lot worse.

"Don't worry. I forgive you. I understand your reaction completely."

Jane figured she needed to tell Lizzy the whole truth about her discussion with Darcy. "I also told him that you weren't into casual sex... and that your experience with men, in that way, was limited."

Lizzy turned scarlet red at this disclosure. She brought her hands up to her burning face. "Oh, Jane. You didn't. He'll think I'm the biggest tease on the face of the earth, especially after I used that excuse to get away from him."

"What do you mean?"

"I told him he was going to fast."

"Wasn't he?"

"Well, yes, but if I had thought he felt the same way as I did, I mean, for some crazy reason I care for him - I would have." Lizzy confessed earnestly.

Jane hadn't really believed her sister when she had previously revealed her desire to be with Darcy, but by the look on Lizzy's face now, she recognized her error.

"Well, I just supported your argument," Jane replied, amused that Lizzy was embarrassed over being thought of as innocent.

"It doesn't matter anyway," Lizzy said resigningly. "It's over."

"I don't think so. The fact he just called you from Australia, wanting to explain himself... well, I think you obviously mean something to him, something more than just a one night stand," Jane concluded, still not sure of the man's intentions, but willing to admit she may have been wrong.

"Maybe, maybe not, but I don't think he deserves my affection at this point, even though I can't stop my heart from doing what it wants. If he still wants to talk when he gets home, we'll see, but if he doesn't, I have to prepare myself for it."

Jane nodded in agreement, and with a clear conscience, left Lizzy to her thoughts.

~ * ~

Darcy wasn't the only one who struck out at an attempted reconciliation that week. Charles managed to get Jane on the line a few days later. He had talked to her briefly and briskly the morning after the party to ensure Lizzy was alright - regardless of whether he believed Darcy could do anything to her, Jane had been concerned, and he was compelled to make sure everything was okay. Their conversation ended quickly, neither feeling any remorse when their emotions were still smarting from each other's sharp words only the night before.

However, since that day, Charles had grown despondent as he realized he'd overreacted to Jane's words on that infamous night. He knew he'd gone too far, but in his mind, there was no way to take back those nasty statements. They were based on years of friendship with a man who had put up with agonizing rumours and innuendo from all fronts. He wished he had been thinking clearly enough to know a lady as sweet and genuine as Jane would never threaten his friend, but he hadn't, and now he was suffering.

After less than a week of regret and self-recrimination, Charles picked up the phone to try to climb out of the hole he'd dug for himself. He also faced the dilemma of whether or not to leave a message when no one proved to be home. Much like Darcy, he didn't want his beloved to know he'd called until he talked to her personally. He finally reached her; three days after Darcy had unsuccessfully made contact.

At the sound of his voice, Jane's body tensed. She was terrified of hearing it and she knew she needed strength. She had reminded herself over and over that she didn't want to play second fiddle or live in doubt of his feelings all her life.

"Jane, I've finally caught you at home! I'd really like to talk. Could we meet?"

"I don't think that's a good idea, Charles. I don't think we have anything to talk about."

"Oh, I think we do. At least I do," Charles said, taking a breath before continuing. "Jane, I was so wrong to say the things I said to you that night. You didn't deserve them. You are the gentlest, kindest woman in the world and I had no right to accuse you of such things. I'm afraid you happen to hit a particularly sore spot with me and I shot off like a missile. I was an idiot. Please say you'll forgive me."

Jane had steeled herself for his loving words, his apologies and his pleading. She believed he was genuine in his apology but she wasn't ready to go any further than that.

"I forgive you, Charles."

Relief enveloped Charles's body and a smile spread across his face. This was going better than he'd hoped. He progressed with a tentative voice, while his heart-rate increased with excitement. Everything's going to work out, he thought as he asked his next question.

"I'm so grateful. You don't know how good it feels to hear you say that. Does this mean... that is... when can I see you again?"

"I still don't think we should see each other, Charles. Yes, I forgive you, but it doesn't mean I can forget, nor does it mean that I want to get back together."

"But why not?" Charles was utterly confused. She forgave him but didn't want him? Why bother forgiving him?

"I've had some time to think about things and I don't think it was working out. I'm sorry, but that's just the way I feel. I don't expect you to understand, but I guess my feelings just aren't strong enough to overcome what I see as major obstacles."

Jane didn't like avoiding her true feelings but she saw no other way out. She couldn't tell him Caroline's suspicions; it just wasn't any of her business.

"Like what? Jane, please tell me and I'll do everything in my power to change. You are the most wonderful woman I've ever met. You've made me so very happy and I can't bear the thought of not being able to see you anymore. Please, just explain what you want, and I'll do it, anything."

"It's not in your power to give me what I want."

"Jane, if it's about Darcy, please don't let him get in the way. There's nothing I'd like more than for you two to get along, but I realize not everyone can be friends. He really isn't an awful person, even though I know you think he is... and I defended him because he's as close as a brother to me. We've been through so much. I defended him just as you defended Lizzy that night, don't you understand?"

"More than you know, but that's beside the point. I didn't want to have to say this, but I'm afraid I'm not as interested in you as you are in me. Can we just leave it at that?"

Jane knew she was lying through her teeth, but the conversation had become too painful. Tears were brimming in her eyes and she wasn't sure how long she could keep her voice steady, particularly after he compared his defense of Darcy to hers of Lizzy. Brotherly love, indeed, she thought bitterly, a very unusual emotion for her.

With her words, Charles resigned himself to defeat. She wasn't interested in him... and he didn't understand, but she quickly ended the conversation before he had time to regroup and try again.

For Jane, the rest of the night was pure hell. She was racked with self-doubt. She was in love with the man, regardless of his possible sexual openness, though she knew, even if he was infatuated or truly in love with Darcy, it would always be unrequited. However, she reasoned that if he was in love with an unavailable woman, she still wouldn't want to be part of that kind of relationship. She couldn't deal with an inequity of feelings, with the knowledge that she was second best. It wasn't enough for her. As she packed her suitcase, she was quite relieved to be going out of town for a dental conference for a few days. Vancouver would be a fresh, new scene for her, where Charles Bingley didn't exist, where he wouldn't know where to contact her, and where everything wouldn't remind her of him. She was convinced the trip would help her get over the difficult hump; at least, she prayed it would.

~ * ~

With all of Lizzy's personal turmoil, she had had no trouble burying herself in her work, but nothing prepared her for the sudden windfall that befell her on the 26th of September, just over a week before the Royal Tour was to arrive in Canada.

By the time Lizzy arrived into work on that cool Thursday morning, Carol Halliday, her manager, hadn't yet arrived. This surprised Lizzy enormously; she was regularly in the office by 8 a.m. By the time 9 a.m. rolled around, there was still no sign of her and no messages informing her team of her absence. She called her home, she checked her agenda and nothing indicated she was to be out of the office.

By two o'clock in the afternoon, Lizzy finally got her answer with a phone call from the lady herself. She was in a hospital room, her leg in a cast and elevated. She had been hit by a car on her way to work and had broken her leg. There were no other injuries, but for a few bumps and bruises, but she was going to be laid up for quite awhile.

Once she described the impossibility of her going across country in such a state, Carol then asked Lizzy hesitantly, "I know this is short notice, I know you've never been involved with something of this magnitude, but you're the only one who knows my files as well as I do. Lizzy, could you please go on the tour in my place?"

"I'm... I'm flattered, but are you sure? Why can't Mary Ellen do it? She's been here longer. She has more experience," Lizzy suggested nervously. As exciting as travelling across country on the tour was, it was a pretty tall order for someone as young as Lizzy, and she knew it.

"Mary Ellen has a two-year-old at home. I'm not going to ask her to fly off unexpectedly. You know it's not usually part of our job," Carol answered firmly. "Will you do it? I may be stuck in a cast and hardly able to move, but my mind is fine and my lips can certainly move. I'll be in contact with you every step of the way."

Even though their office was protocol, they did not have an international agenda. They organized foreign visits within Canada and most of those occurred directly in Ottawa. Their group was one of the few at Foreign Affairs who permanently resided in the city. While most Foreign Affairs officers saw their stay in Ottawa as a jumping point to bigger and better things, the Protocol Office had life-long Ottawa residents. This tour was an anomaly and Lizzy, being young, single and extremely competent, was perfect as a replacement.

"Of course I'll do it, Carol. It's just so sudden. When do I actually have to leave? Who gets my plane tickets? What do I pack?"

Carol proceeded to elaborate on all the details Lizzy needed to know while Lizzy took frantic notes, realizing she faced a daunting task. Two weeks of making sure the Queen and her entourage were on schedule, comfortably settled in their hotel rooms night after night and properly briefed on all the Canadian dignitaries they'd encountered was going to be all-consuming. However, the biggest task was ensuring she was two to ten steps ahead of the game at all times. She'd have no time to eat, sleep or think anything but Queen-related thoughts for the next two and a half weeks. As far as Lizzy was concerned, this astonishing workload couldn't have come at a more opportune time. She would be forced to rid her mind of Darcy. He'd have to be the last of her concerns, regardless of whether or not she wanted to think of him. So, faced with two weeks of high-pressure, tight-scheduled, high- priority event organization, Lizzy's felt a sense of relief. She was one screwed up woman.

~ * ~

During Darcy's second week away, he finally got around to e-mailing Charles. Darcy was actually very diligent in keeping up any correspondence, particularly with his closest friend; however, he'd been subconsciously avoiding any contact with him, not wanting to hear about his blissful happiness with his Bennet woman.

With these thoughts, Darcy only managed to type in a short 'Hope Jane is doing well' near the end of his letter. Darcy finally got to read Charles's reply after a very long business dinner and was overwhelmed; not only had Charles written a full eight paragraphs - a major achievement in concentration on that man's part - he had also relayed the news that he and Jane hadn't been together since his party. They had argued and Jane wouldn't take him back.

All Darcy's jealous feelings transformed into a sense of guilt. Jane and Charles had seemed perfect together; they had complimenting personalities and while Jane could be a little quiet (save for defending her sister), she appreciated Charles's energy. Charles hadn't elaborated on the facts of the break-up, even with his lengthy letter, but it was obvious he felt responsible and that Jane had every right to stay away.

He called him as soon as he finished his e-mail. It didn't matter that it was 7 a.m. in Ottawa. A groggy Charles picked up the phone to hear Darcy state, "Good morning Charles."

"Is that you Darcy? Do you know what time it is here?"

"Time enough that you should be up. It's a weekday."

"You obviously don't know my schedule."

"Of course I do, that's why I took the time to call before I went to bed."

"Very good of you. Now why are you calling?" he asked, slowly waking.

"I got your e-mail. I was shocked by its length. Without even reading it I knew something had to be wrong. What happened between you and Jane?"

"We fought and she won't take me back, I thought I made that clear in the e-mail."
"What could the two of you have fought about?"
"It doesn't concern you, Darcy."
"The hell it doesn't. You're my friend and she made you happy. Now you tell me the two of you argued. God, I thought I was the only one in hot water with the Bennet sisters that night."
"Well, Jane wasn't happy with me and she was right."
"What did you do to upset her?"
"I'd rather not discuss it."
"Well, when I left Jane she was rather perturbed with me, and rightly so... wait a minute," Darcy paused as a realization hit him. "Did you two fight over me?"
"Well, uh, not... exactly." Charles wanted to lie, but Darcy's guess had taken him by surprise and before he knew it, he'd admitted more than he intended.
"What do you mean, not exactly?"
"It was more over you and Lizzy."
"Are you insane? Elizabeth and I don't need you two bickering over us. We do enough of that on our own. How could you let that happen?"
"Well, she accused you of hurting Lizzy and I defended you, but I guess I went a little too far."
"What do you mean by too far?" Darcy was angry at his friend's behaviour. Charles usually had good sense when it came to women.
"Well I said that your friendship was more important to me than my relationship with her."
"I am right, you are insane. Have you seen yourself around her? You've never been happier."

Darcy usually didn't chastise Charles's behaviour, but couldn't believe the ridiculousness of Charles's logic. Even Darcy knew comparing one's friendship to one's lover was a no no - the biggest insult possible. He was also projecting his frustrations of his relationship with Elizabeth onto Charles and Jane and wanting Charles to resolve his problems as quickly as possible.
"I was happy, but that doesn't matter now, she won't have me."
"Well, what have you done to get her back?"
"I spoke with her on the phone and she refused to even consider it."
"That's all? You just gave up that easily."
"I don't deserve her, Darcy. I said some awful things."
"Listen, what you said was stupid, but if you explain yourself properly you should be able to repair the damage. Think what kind of situation I'm in with Elizabeth. I've been rude to her time and time again, and yet, when I get back to Ottawa, I fully intend to explain myself, and somehow, if I'm lucky enough, I hope she'll give me one more chance. So if you've given up for such piddly reasons, I'm ashamed of you."
"Alright, alright. If you still think you stand a chance in hell of getting back together with Lizzy, I should be able to try a little harder with Jane," Charles said, actually managing to laugh at Darcy's optimism. "I'll go to her office as soon as I shower and change."
"Go to it."
"Thanks Darce."

Poor Charles was so determined to win back the heart of his love, that when he arrived at her office with a huge bouquet of mixed flowers, he was crestfallen. He could sense Jane's presence everywhere - her degree was on the wall, there was a collage of photos with her and her patients and he even saw her sage green rain jacket hanging in the closet, but Jane was away and wouldn't be back to work until Monday... four days away. The receptionist at the office was treated to the most elegant arrangement of blooms she had ever seen.

Lizzy was stunned when she answered the phone to Charles's voice. She hadn't heard a word about him from Jane and as far as she knew it was the first time he'd tried to contact her.

"Yes, Jane's away," she answered his question cautiously.
"Why do you want to contact her now?"

Charles then explained the whole misunderstanding, much to Lizzy's surprise. She did feel for Jane, but didn't understand why she didn't accept his apology and try to start over. He seemed sincere in his regret to Lizzy, and Jane wasn't one to hold a grudge. The whole scenario baffled Lizzy profusely.

"I'd tell you to call her in Vancouver, but if you haven't had much luck over the phone, perhaps you should see her personally. She comes back on Saturday. Maybe you can talk to her then," Lizzy suggested.
"Lizzy, would it be awful of me to suggest that I pick her up at the airport?"
"Charles, are you sure you're telling me everything? You're not holding back on something you said to save yourself some embarrassment, are you? Because Jane's not one to be so stubborn if you've apologized."
"I swear, I've told you everything. I know I said some pretty awful things but I told her I realized they were stupid, I told her I didn't mean them. They were said in the heat of the moment. She just didn't want to listen."
"Maybe Caroline said something..." Lizzy thought out loud.
"Caroline?"
"Well, Jane said she drove her home that night and she indicated that you weren't the right man for Jane. Your darling sister insisted it wasn't Jane who was the problem but you. I don't know what she said specifically, but it may be the reason for Jane's refusal to start over."
"My sister did what? How dare she!"
"Listen Charles, you know I don't like Caroline, but I really don't know all the details. Perhaps she was just trying to comfort Jane. But I thought you should be aware."
"So, does that mean I can pick her up at the airport? Now that I know what I'm up against, I'll certainly bring up Caroline and her comments when I talk to Jane."
"I think that would be a fabulous idea," Lizzy agreed. She gave Charles all the particulars and crossed her fingers, hoping she hadn't made a huge mistake in playing matchmaker. However, Jane had been miserable - yes, she'd put up a brave front, but Lizzy knew her sister too well to doubt her state of being. She and Charles were made for each other and she was going to make sure nothing, especially not Caroline Bingley, stood in their way.
"Now Lizzy, why don't you meet Darcy at the airport," Charles urged, back on his matchmaking post as well.
"Don't you even start, Charles. Besides, I'm not going to be in town."

Lizzy then explained her job opportunity and Charles was thrilled for her, although he was quite sure Darcy would be extremely disappointed in the timing of her departure. Well, he'll just have to wait, Charles huckled to himself. But he's definitely not used to that.

~ * ~

On Saturday evening, Jane Bennet cut an elegant figure walking into the arrivals area of the Ottawa International Airport. Her hair was in a smooth chignon and her casual two-piece suit hung gracefully from her statuesque figure. Charles stood mesmerized, suddenly terribly nervous and doubtful of his abilities to explain himself. As if by divine intervention, Jane almost instantly looked his way, a sad smile gracing her face. He looked so handsome...so hopeful. She closed her eyes momentarily and opened them, ensuring he wasn't a mirage. As a jolt of desire shot through her body, she almost ran... almost.

Vancouver had done nothing but change the scenery; her heart only mended as much as distance and time would allow when one was hopelessly in love - that amounted to very little.

As he approached her, she tried to steel herself, but his eager, hopeful smile melted her iron will. "Jane, can we sit and talk somewhere?"

And so, in front of the Tim Horton's coffee shop in a nearly empty airport, Jane let Charles explain himself one more time, and she quietly and calmly reiterated that she forgave him but she didn't want to be involved with him anymore.

"Can I ask you what Caroline said to you?" Charles finally asked when his answers and explanations didn't seem to get him anywhere.

"What do you mean?" Jane asked, suddenly looking away from the table as if something had caught her attention.

"Lizzy mentioned you told her that Caroline agreed with your decision to break up with me. I'd like to know why."
"I think that's between Caroline and me. It was a private conversation," Jane answered uncomfortably.
"Like hell it's between the two of you," Charles replied, frustrated with what he saw as his sister's interference. "If she affected your decision in any way, I have a right to know what she said about me."
"She just justified my decision. She didn't make it for me."
"Jane, please, tell me."
"I... I'm a bit uncomfortable with revealing it to you. It was something she said to me in trust."
"My sister is a talented, smart woman, but trust is not a word I would put anywhere near her. She always has a method to her madness and I'm sorry I hadn't elaborated on her with you before. I thought you could detect it in how she treated Lizzy."

Suddenly, Jane felt self-conscious about her decision to take Caroline at face value, but she had always thought the best of people until they proved her wrong. She had assumed Caroline's behaviour to Lizzy was all because of her attraction to Darcy and that otherwise, she was a decent, if a little shallow, person. As she replayed the conversation in her head, she realized Caroline could have manipulated the situation. She just didn't understand why.

"Charles, have you ever been attracted to a man?" Jane blurted out suddenly.

Charles blinked twice and then stared at Jane, stunned. His brow then creased, confused at Jane's train of thought.

"No," he answered warily. "Where did that come from?"
"Are you sure? Maybe you don't even realize it," Jane said, looking at his reaction intently.
"Jane, I am heterosexual, one hundred percent. I have no problem with people who aren't, but I've only ever been attracted to the opposite sex... wait a minute. Did Caroline infer I've been involved with men?"
"No, she just inferred you might not only be attracted to women, that you were also attracted to... to one particular man," she responded hesitantly.
"Who?"

Jane bit the inside of her lip. Moments passed uncomfortably, but Charles waited until she finally answered in a near whisper, "Darcy."

Charles nearly keeled over in laughter. Jane was not expecting that reaction. When he finally composed himself, he asked seriously, "Caroline told you this?"

"Well, she said she suspected it since you two are so close. Charles, I had just left you after an argument over him; your loyalty to him, your friendship to him and the fact you chose him over me. My pride was wounded, I realize that now, but at the time, it sounded pretty plausible to me."
"Oh, God, what a mess. Jane, I'm not gay. I'm not bisexual. I'm only interested romantically with one person on this entire planet, this entire universe, and that's you. Do you believe me?" His eyes shone with hope, understanding and love.

She hesitated momentarily, not because she didn't believe him, but because this was all happening so fast. Her mind was having difficulty reconciling her previous certainty of his bisexuality with her present conviction that he was absolutely not.

"Have I ever lied to you?" he pressed.
"No, never. I believe you. I didn't mean to hesitate. Charles, how could I have been so foolish. I think of myself as a rational, calm, sensible person and I overreacted so much. I'm so sorry. Can you forgive me?"
"Me, forgive you? You have no reason to ask me for forgiveness. I should have never have thought you were threatening Darcy... and you're so trusting, why wouldn't you believe Caroline?"
"Charles, she seemed so genuine and she's never been unkind to me. Perhaps she really does think you're interested in Darcy. Perhaps her attraction to him causes her to see everyone as a threat."
"Maybe... you think that way if it gives you comfort, Jane. I'll deal with her in my own way, but what she did... my God, what if you weren't such a good person. You could have told anyone. I could have been getting hit on by both sexes and not knowing why." Charles found the humour in a situation which he knew he'd eventually have to deal with seriously.
"But you know, I don't want to talk about her anymore. Do you?" Charles asked; his eyes softening as his mind focussed on the beauty before him.
"No," Jane said, with a soft smile that illuminated her face.

He took her smooth, feminine hands in his and brought them to his lips. When she didn't pull away, he was filled with relief, and delicately kissed every finger.

Jane's eyes filled with tears - of happiness and of sorrow. She was so glad he had come back to her, so thrilled he had explained himself, but also so disappointed in the time wasted. Their eyes were locked as she blinked, and two tears slowly slid down her cheeks.
"Don't cry, my sweet Jane. Everything will be alright from now on," Charles whispered, wiping the tears away with his thumbs, stroking her cheek lightly.
"I'm just so thankful you came to me. What if you hadn't?" Jane asked, frightening herself with the thought.
"Thank Darcy for this second try. He nearly pummelled me over the phone lines."
"He did? What does it matter to him?" Jane was shocked to hear Darcy had urged Charles on after she had been so rough on him. She was beginning to appreciate the man and worried that she had permanently damaged his and Lizzy's relationship.
"He said he'd never seen me as happy as I am with you. He was frustrated I hadn't tried hard enough."
"I'll have to thank him the next time I see him."
"He's right you know. I've never been as happy as I am when I'm with you," Charles said, moving his chair over to be right next to her. He took her hands again and placed a light kiss on her lips.

"Me either," Jane replied and brought her lips back to his, much more forcefully than Charles's first attempt. He replied in kind as his hands made their way to the gentle skin of her neck, stroking her softly behind the ear. She wrapped her arms around him and they were oblivious to their surroundings, not noticing the cleaning lady who grinned foolishly while watching the whole scene. Their kiss told of their longing, their pain and their exquisite joy at being together again in each other's arms. There was no hesitation, only a certainty of being loved.

When they parted, Charles then kissed her cheeks, her nose and her forehead. He pulled away, looked into her hazel eyes and simply said,
"I love you, Jane."
"I love you, too," she replied.

Jane's first night back in Ottawa was perhaps the best of her life. Charles brought her home and worshipped her, as only a man in love could do.

~ * ~

Lizzy spent the few days before her departure trying to figure out what to pack. When your first destination was Iqaluit, the capital of the northern territory Nunavut, one of the coldest places in Canada, and your second destination was Victoria, British Columbia, one of the warmest places, you had a lot of planning to do.

She had had the townhouse to herself to prepare for the trip as Jane had rarely been seen since returning from Vancouver. Lizzy was so relieved things had worked out and wasn't the least bit surprised when Jane finally related her and Caroline's conversation.

"Oh, how I'd like to get my hands on that woman," Lizzy said, during one of their telephone conversations. Jane wasn't in any hurry to leave Netherfield since returning home. "You'll have to get in line," Jane informed her dryly, much to Lizzy's amusement. She loved it when Jane fought back.

Lizzy was surprised, however, when Jane relayed the fact Darcy had practically ordered Charles not to give up on Jane. Jane also informed Lizzy that the man intended to contact her once he retuned home. Again Lizzy's stomach did somersaults at the idea, half-excited, half- terrified. She kept repeating her mantra, "He doesn't deserve me. I don't need him. I'm better than this," but somehow she couldn't manage to sound totally convincing.

She forced herself to put it out of her mind and as she arrived in the far north of Canada to prepare for the Queen's first stop, she was quite able to do so. For the next week and a half, Lizzy worked non- stop, only managing to e-mail Jane at home because her hours were so erratic. She was awed by the gentleness of the Inuit people in Nunavut, she was thrilled at the opportunity to meet Wayne Gretzky when he escorted the Queen onto a hockey rink to drop the puck at an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, she was excited for all the dance troupes and children's choirs who had their moment to shine as the Queen and her husband looked on in appreciation and she watched in each province as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award recipients had the chance to receive the honour from the duke himself. As rewarding as the hustle and bustle of the tour was, she knew she would be relieved beyond belief when she finally landed in Ottawa again, even if the tour still continued three full days after that.

~ * ~

When Darcy arrived back on Canadian soil, he was secure in knowing the success of his business quest. It usually gave him a rush but his mood only blackened as he realized that when he finally made it back to Ottawa, he had no Elizabeth to look forward to. She had made that perfectly clear. As much as he had hoped to get the opportunity to speak to her, he knew she held the cards and the decision to play was hers. He could only wait to see if he was worth the pot, or if she'd fold her hand.

But first was his visit with Georgie. He had missed her quiet presence at Pemberley in the past year, but studying outside of Ottawa was best for her. She could rid herself of her personal demons and she could learn to be self-sufficient. She had always shown deference to Darcy, and when he was younger, he knowingly enjoyed that power. Unfortunately, the one time she chose to rebel had cost her dearly - her confidence had suffered a blow and she became even more dependent on her older brother.

When the opportunity to study at the University of Western Ontario arose, Darcy urged her - truly, he pushed her to accept, using his influence for the very purpose of distancing her from him. He wanted her to grow, to realize most men weren't like George, but even more importantly, to learn to be a more independent thinker in order to better judge people for herself.

His plan had worked well, and by the end of her first year, she decided to work in Toronto instead of Ottawa during the summer holidays. Whether this was her growing independence or her wanting to avoid any chance of seeing George, Darcy was still uncertain, but any time they'd chatted, she had been in high spirits, a major relief to him.

She was out of residence this year (another experience Darcy had insisted upon) and was living in a three bedroom townhouse with another girl, Karen Annesley. Darcy had purchased it so Georgie would be near the university but still be responsible for her own cooking and cleaning. His parents had done the same for him during his university days.

She walked towards him at the arrivals gate of the local airport in London, Ontario and gave him a warm hug, far more outgoing for her than usual. She wore a colourful fall jacket, a long hemp skirt and a kerchief hanging around her neck. Darcy smiled at her attempt to look Bohemian, while still wearing the half-carat diamond earrings her father had given to her as a child. "How are you? I'm so excited to have you see my place. Karen and I have been cooking up a storm for your visit!"

"Cooking? You're not going to let me take you out to dinner? What kind of university student are you?" he asked, smiling at Georgie's beaming face.
"One who has learned to cook really well and who wants to show off her culinary expertise to her big brother," Georgie responded, elevating her chin slightly to show her determination.

She had no idea how much this pleased Darcy. He looked at his sister with relief and pride - she was finally growing into a confident, self-sufficient woman - he had feared that would never come to pass.

"Will you be giving Mrs. R. a run for her money?" he asked as he took her arm and walked towards the conveyor belt.
"Okay...not that well... but maybe someday, if she gives away some of her secrets, I'll be able to rival her," she said laughing and leaning into Darcy, squeezing his arm tightly. She was really happy he was there visiting her.

As she drove him back to her home in her Rav4 (Darcy wanted her to have four wheel drive for winter visits home), she began to notice his melancholy state. She wasn't going to pursue it immediately - perhaps it was just jet lag or maybe his work hadn't gone as planned - but Georgie really wasn't one to pry into her brother's affairs. She knew he probably wouldn't feel comfortable opening up to her anyway - he hardly opened up to anyone when he was unhappy. But what worried her was the fact he had seemed almost jovial when she had talked to him a few days before heading to Australia. The total turn-around was a bit upsetting.

He arrived to the comforting smell of lasagna and garlic bread, and he wasn't surprised; it was always Georgie's favourite.

"I suppose this is the first thing you learned to cook," Darcy commented with a smile as he sat down for dinner.
"My first and best recipe," Georgie laughed.

As the meal progressed, Darcy made an effort to ask questions of the young women, a diversion that allowed him to say as little as possible, but still seem part of the conversation.

Karen would have been mute otherwise. She had seen photos of Georgie's brother, but meeting him in the flesh was rather intimidating. Not only was he one of the most successful men in the country, he was also downright hot. She didn't want to fantasize about her roomie's brother, but his voice alone was enough to make her squirm in her seat.

She finally clued in that perhaps it would be best to leave the two siblings alone to catch up, and regrettably excused herself to go study. What she actually did, was call six of her closest friends and describe every minute detail of Georgie's gorgeous sibling.

After a quiet after dinner drink, Georgie could take it no longer. She was used to a reserved brother, in fact, his attempt to ask questions was an improvement in his conversation skills, but it took away the opportunity for her to get anything out of him.

But when he had been quiet, he had stared into space, sometimes oblivious to her or Karen's responses until he was cajoled back into the conversation. As often as he smiled at Georgie's news and reports of her university antics, she noticed a sadness in his eyes, sometimes proceeded by a scowl.

"Is there something wrong, William? Was Australia or New Zealand not to your liking?"
"Mmm?" he asked, hardly hearing a word she'd said, so lost was he in his thoughts of Elizabeth.
"Okay, what's wrong?" she asked firmly, hoping he'd be surprised enough by her forthrightness to actually share his troubles, however unlikely the possibility seemed.
"Nothing. I'm just jet-lagged, I suppose," Darcy said, trying to cover his distraction. He was tired, but mostly because he hadn't slept well for almost three weeks.
"Nonsense, I've seen you jet-lagged before. There's something else... but I suppose you don't think it's your little sister's business," she said casually, even though she was secretly hurt he'd never felt comfortable enough with her to share.
"As a matter of fact, it's not," he replied, not reading any more into her slight jest.
"You are so frustrating, do you know that?" she said bitterly, to Darcy's shock.

Are all women alike? They all seem to like to scold me, Darcy thought to himself.
"Alright, alright. Let's just say that I left an unresolved situation in Ottawa that I'm eager to get back to. The problem is, I don't know if I can resolve it when I return."
"Well, that's cryptic."
"Yes, it is, but it's all I'm willing to say right now. I'm not happy about it."
"I couldn't tell."
"Have you been taking lessons from Anne?" Darcy asked suspiciously. He had never known Georgie to be so sarcastic to him.

She laughed at his comment, knowing full well what Anne was like when she picked on him. She really had no idea what was going on, although she suspected it was a personal, rather than professional problem.

"No, I haven't, but I can tell you're not happy, and though I've never known you to be an extroverted social maniac, I don't like when you're this down. So... is there anything you can do to fix what's wrong right now?"
"I don't think so."
"Have you done anything to resolve it yet?"
"I've tried and failed."
"How many times have you tried to resolve it?"
"Is this an interrogation?"
"I'm just trying to help and since I don't know the details, I can at least use my university-educated problem-solving mind to help you."
"Are you sure you're my sister Georgie?" Darcy asked while smiling at her confidence. As much as he'd rather not talk about his love life with her, he was glad to see her pushing him a little.
"Yes, it's me, and you didn't answer my question. How many times have you tried to fix your problem?"
"Just once. It's difficult when one is away from the problem."
"Why?"
"It just is."
"So you're telling me that my brother, William Darcy himself, has given up after one try?"
"Well, I guess, technically, twice."
"Try again."
"Why are you so insistent?"
"Because you're so unhappy and the last time I talked to you, before you left for Australia, you seemed happier than usual, and I figure the problem has something to do with that."

Suddenly, what Georgie said reminded him of what he had told Charles. He had been happy with Elizabeth, just as Charles had been happy with Jane. He was now the opposite and hadn't done anything in two weeks to try to correct it. He had lambasted Charles for dawdling, so why should he be any different?

"Will you excuse me for a moment?"

Georgie held in her smirk and nodded, feeling very smug for having pushed him to action.

Alone in his room, he dialed Elizabeth's number. His breath became shallow and he paced about the room as the phone rang. Again, the answering machine was his only contact and it wasn't even Elizabeth's voice. He missed it, he missed her and right about now, he was ready to hop in Georgie's truck and drive seven hours to get to Ottawa. However, he had his priorities as a brother, and driving to Ottawa was no guarantee that Elizabeth would want to see him.

Darcy waited until the next evening to try again, and again, was halted by Jane's message. He resolutely decided to call Charles as he hadn't spoken to him since he'd chastised him for not acting quickly enough. He also thought if Charles and Jane had reconciled, his friend may know how to locate Elizabeth.

He was surprised to hear a female voice answer the line. "May I speak to Charles, please."

"Is that you, Darcy?" Jane asked. He had an unmistakable voice.
"Yes... Jane?" he asked cautiously. "
Yes, it's me. I'll get Charles for you," she said, not sure how to approach the conversation.
"Actually, one of the reasons I called was to see if you two had reconciled. I guess I have my answer. I'm glad to hear it."
"Thank you, Darcy. As I understand it, you had something to do with it," Jane said, a little warmer.
"Oh, I just gave Charles a little push by waking him up early one morning. He would have got around to it," Darcy replied humbly.
"I think it was more than that and I have to say, it was very big of you after the way I'd treated you. You had every reason to keep him away from me," Jane reasoned.
"Not at all. You were perfectly justified in your argument with me the night of the party. I have treated your sister abominably. I wish I could take back what I've done," Darcy said, revealing more than he'd expected, but he realized it needed to be said, not only to Elizabeth, but to Jane as well.
"I have a feeling you're going to try to improve your behaviour when she returns," Jane said expectantly.
"Returns?" Darcy questioned. "Returns from where?"
"Oh, you don't know? Of course you don't. Lizzy's boss broke her leg just days before she was to leave to handle protocol for the Queen's visit. Lizzy had to take her place at the last minute. I don't even know where she is today, although I guess I could watch the news to find out. I've seen her in the background a couple of times. It's pretty exciting," Jane explained, quite proud of Lizzy's role.
"Wow, that's quite an opportunity for her. Jane... I know you may not be comfortable with this, but is there any way I could get in touch with her?" Darcy asked guardedly.
"To be honest, I haven't been keeping track of where she is from day to day and although she does have a cell phone, it's more for work purposes. She really doesn't want anyone calling her on it. If you wanted to contact her, I think your best bet would be her work e-mail. She has a laptop with her."
"You don't mind if I contact her?" Darcy asked, genuinely wanting for Jane's approval.
"No, I don't mind, but somehow I doubt that would matter," she said laughing good-naturedly. "Darcy, I interfered a little too much with you two that night and it's really Lizzy's decision whether she wants you in her life or not."

Jane wasn't ready to reveal she knew Lizzy had feelings for him. That was for him to find out from her sister directly, but she felt better knowing she had enabled him to get in touch with her. She was actually pleased he could only contact her from e-mail. It would give Lizzy the opportunity to think about his message without pressure.

"You're a very generous person to help me. I'm really pleased you and Charles have worked things out. I think you two will be very happy together," Darcy said honestly.
"Thank you. Listen, why don't I give you Charles. I'm sure he'll want to speak to you."

After he got the run-down of the reconciliation from Charles, particularly Caroline's part in the actual break-up, Darcy was livid. It was a shame Caroline wasn't a man, he would have liked to give her a hard upper-cut. He set up his laptop and began to type, knowing this was perhaps the most important letter he'd ever had to write, pouring his heart and feelings in to every word. He only read over his words once before hitting send, and prayed it made some kind of difference.

Dear Elizabeth,

I know you may debate as to whether you want to read this or not, but I beg you to give me the chance to explain myself. I realize I don't deserve it, but I hope you will at least hear me out.

I wish I could take back some of my actions and words of the past, as well as my ill-judgement of you, but I can't, and you have every right to hate me for it, but I hope and wish for you to again, give me a chance to make amends. I understand if you won't see me, but please allow me to clarify my behaviour.

I know I had told you I found you attractive, but I realize I never elaborated further. You are beautiful, but that's only the beginning. I miss you, Elizabeth. I've missed you since you walked out the door the night of Charles's party and if your sister hadn't stopped me, I would have attempted to explain myself to you that night. I miss the sound of your voice, your smile, your energy. I miss the way you tell me exactly how you feel and that you never back down from me. I miss the way you challenge me and my stubbornness. I miss all of you.

I am happy when I'm with you and I've been miserable without you, particularly because I know I've hurt you and you don't want to speak to me. Jane made me look at myself and how I treated you the night of the party and I now know it was despicable. I never explained my intentions, nor did I ask about your comfort level. I went too fast and I'm not used to being rejected. You were right; we were rushing, but in my defense I will say that I only wanted to rush because I felt so much - not just attraction - but need, a need to be part of you and your life. I treated you like a prize to be won rather than someone to whom I wanted to show my affection, my respect and my trust.

That night, I admit, I was overcome by my passion for you, and what I said, to be honest, I didn't even know what I said until you repeated it back to me. I was caught in the moment and I wasn't very articulate. I think you are well aware that I've been known to make idiotic comments. You've called me on it many times.

I regret the words but they were misunderstood, they were stupid but not meant to be malicious. What I meant, in that heated moment, was even though I trusted you, I was so deeply attracted to you physically that the urge to be with you was overpowering. Were you to have lied to me in the past, at that moment, I would have been powerless to stop myself. Perhaps it's not the most romantic idea, but it's true. You bewitch me.

Elizabeth, I know we haven't had time to get to know each other that well, but I want to get to know you more. You are a warm, giving woman. You make me smile and laugh more than I could ever imagine. I care for you far more than I should for someone who has known you for so little time. You are an incredible, intelligent, spirited woman and any man would be lucky to be considered yours. I wish that man could be me.

But my wishes mean nothing. What you chose to do is up to you. I would like to see you when we both return to Ottawa, but I understand if you decide I'm not worth the effort. I hope to hear from you one way or the other, but again, that will be your decision. Just know that if we're not to see each other again, I wish you only joy and happiness in your life. You deserve nothing less.

Yours,

William

chapter IX

Lizzy stared at her laptop in stunned silence. She re-read his words three times before she believed they were actually meant for her. He missed her, he cared for her and he wanted to be hers. Her first reaction was shock; after her second read-through, she was momentarily elated and when she went over the letter again, she was overcome with fear. She didn't know whether to trust his words; she couldn't help but still suspect him a little. He was saying all the right things, the kind of things that make a woman swoon. Was that his plan?

Lizzy knew she was being far too suspicious. She knew she was just afraid of being hurt all over again. Underneath it all, she knew the butterflies in her stomach were from excitement, not worry; but even so, she wasn't sure how to respond to him, and she really didn't have the time to string any semblance of coherent thought. It was already one in the morning and she'd have to be on the go by six. She would have to write a note back to him in fits and starts and then send it in a couple of days. That would also give her time to try to figure out what to say.

Her turbulent emotions didn't help her sleep. The last two weeks were catching up with her, she had been subsisting on about four to five hours of sleep per night, but that didn't stop her from tossing and turning away the hours with thoughts of Darcy. In fact, for the next few nights she continued to flip about under the covers after writing and erasing almost every word she'd typed. As much as she would have loved to jump into a relationship with him at full speed, she'd already seen where that had gotten her. She had rushed and she'd been burned, and although Darcy had behaved badly, he wasn't the only one to blame for the mess they'd ended up creating.

When almost a week had passed, she finally clicked 'Send' on her laptop and hoped what she was saying was enough, because she wasn't yet ready to say more.

Dear Darcy,

I have to admit I was somewhat amazed at receiving your e-mail and I apologize for being so slow to respond. I just didn't know what to say, your letter overwhelmed me at a time when I didn't have a moment to be overwhelmed. It's now two in the morning but I am determined to send this tonight.

As you admitted yourself, you've hurt me. I know I'm partly to blame for the situation, but nonetheless, my feelings are still wounded. I know you feel I had misunderstood your interest in me, but I just wish you had explained your intentions more clearly. I've read all your wonderful words, but to be honest I still have doubts. I wish I could say you've made everything okay, but it's going to take a while for me to trust you.

Having said all of that, I have to admit, I've also missed you and I'm flattered you've taken the effort to reveal your feelings to me. I believe you when you say I mean more to you than I should in such a short acquaintance, because I feel the same. I'm willing to give us another shot, if indeed we ever really had a first shot. We haven't had a real relationship to speak of, and if we were to pursue one when I return home, I want it to be a little more traditional.

I want to see you again, but we need to start over, and start slowly. We know we're attracted to each other physically, I'd never deny that; however, I would like to get to know you, the person - your thoughts, your concerns, what makes you the man you are.

I'll be in Ottawa as of Sunday, but I'll be working until the end of day Wednesday. I then have plans for the evening and I intend to be incognito on Thursday and Friday. I need to catch up on some sleep and do some household errands I've neglected while away. If you'd like to see me, it will have to be the following Saturday and I would prefer it be something simple, perhaps the breakfast we discussed long ago.

I do want to thank you for writing to me. You've touched my heart with your words and though I can't echo everything you've told me, I hope things will work out better between us this time around. You've also come to mean something very special to me.

I look forward to seeing you next Saturday.

Warm regards,

Lizzy

~ * ~

Darcy had had as many sleepless, tortured nights as Lizzy while waiting for her response. He had just decided to write to her again, believing she hadn't even bothered opening the first message, when he opened his e-mail to see a message had arrived while he was sleeping.

Upon reading the letter, it taught him to hope after a week of slowly draining confidence. He knew if she was absolutely against pursuing a relationship, she would have said so directly and openly. She wouldn't have given him any words of encouragement.

Although she was more hesitant than he would have liked, he appreciated her honest emotions and certainly couldn't blame her for her response. He would respect her wishes and take it slow; however, he wasn't prepared to wait a week and a half before seeing her again.

He found the Royal Tour schedule on the Internet and noticed upon her return there was a gala reception at the Museum of Civilization on Sunday evening. He smiled as he dialed Richard's number. He never thought his cousin's position as British Deputy High Commissioner would come in so handy for him.

Three days later Darcy was fidgeting nervously with his bow tie. Anne had offered to help him get ready but he politely refused. She probably only wanted to be around to give her opinion, but he wasn't in a mood to endure her teasing and dry commentary, nor her smugness at being right. He just wanted to prepare in silence and solitude, but he hadn't counted on being so nervous. He was so jittery; he hadn't even noticed he was preparing for the evening hours too early.

He also didn't know how Elizabeth would react to his presence at the reception, but he was determined to see her. He couldn't stand knowing she was in the same city and he wasn't near her. He didn't even need to talk to her so long as he could share the room with her for an evening. Besides, Richard was his cousin and his mother was from England, so why shouldn't he be at a reception for the Queen? He tried to convince himself he would be satisfied with just looking at her and that he had every reason to be at this event, but his fingers gave away the truth. He was shaking and it was probably a good thing he was preparing early.

As he finally managed to get the tie right, he continued glancing at the television news coverage of the visit as he had been doing for the past week, trying to catch a glimpse of Elizabeth in the background. Every once in a while he saw her profile and once there was a direct shot of her smiling... his heart leapt.

Today though, he couldn't find her anywhere and he momentarily worried she hadn't come back to Ottawa with the rest of the tour. Nonsense, Darcy chastised himself. You are so pathetic.

As he reached in the drawer for his lucky black onyx cufflinks, the camel's back seemed to break. His nerves were shattered as he searched through his small collection of jewellery. It would be safe to say Darcy had never been so ruffled in his life. He had to wear those cufflinks. They were given to him by his father on his 15th birthday. Mr. Darcy Sr. had explained to his son that these were the cufflinks he was wearing the night he met his mother, as well as on their wedding day. He hoped his son had as much luck wearing them as he did... and Darcy certainly would have agreed with him. Six months later he'd met a highly attractive 18-year old at a Darcy Publishing function and had lost his virginity, much to the delight of his young, healthy libido and ego. The cufflinks had been worn that night. Years later, very late at night after a few too many drams of Scotch, Darcy's father had also explained those cufflinks were worn on the night he and Darcy's mother had consummated their relationship.

I need to find those cufflinks, he thought rather irrationally as he shuffled through his sock drawer. It's not that I expect to get lucky tonight, it's just they are lucky. And then it hit him. Several months ago, Darcy had related the cufflinks' history to Charles, who roceeded to dub them the 'Get Lucky' cufflinks. He asked to borrow them for a party he was attending with a particularly striking redhead. He'd never returned them. Darcy never did get the verdict on the redhead, although it obviously didn't matter anymore.

He finally noticed the clock and realized he'd have plenty of time to go to Charles's to retrieve the beloved cufflinks. Besides, he hadn't seen him in a while and perhaps he'd help him calm his nerves. He called Charles who confirmed the cufflinks were still in his bedroom and Darcy was welcome to stop by. He summoned his limo and was off.

~ * ~

Charles was relieved his friend intended to visit. He had been growing frustrated and angry all afternoon and was happy for the distraction. He had invited Caroline to lunch as he hadn't really spoken to her since before he and Jane had reconciled. In fact, she'd hardly shown her face since the night of the party. He knew why, of course. As conniving as his sister could be, he knew she must have been feeling a sense of guilt and he also knew she wasn't entirely capable of hiding it from her own brother, so she avoided him like the plague. She'd kept any conversations brief and had insisted she was extremely busy with the last minute touches before her shop and design studio opened.

She had finally accepted an invitation to Netherfield and had been expected at noon. She had no idea she would have arrived to face not only Charles but Jane as well. He had been ready to deal with her with Jane by his side but by the time Darcy called at four o'clock, he hadn't heard a word from her. He had tried her cell phone several times and it was never answered. He had given up and was ready to welcome Darcy for the first time since his return to Ottawa.

About half an hour later, Charles was sitting in his study while Jane had gone to find a book in the library. He heard the unmistakable click-click of three inch stilettos and was quite certain Darcy hadn't intended on going to the reception in drag.

As Caroline walked through the door of his study with what looked to be a terribly unhappy red fox tied around her shoulders, he nearly lost his solemnity. She could be such a caricature sometimes and she didn't even know it. Perhaps her fashion eccentricities worked on the Champs Elysées or with other designers, but they seemed ill-suited to the sleepy suburb of a conservative government city. He held in a chuckle and waited for her explanation.

"I couldn't make it for lunch so I hope an early dinner is possible," Caroline said, not asking as much as ordering. She sat down directly in front of him at his desk, carefully crossing her legs making sure her skirt didn't ride up too high.

"What happened to you? I called your cell phone over and over and it just kept ringing. Showing up four hours late isn't acceptable," Charles stated, irked by her words, her demeanour and, truth be told, her entire existence. He didn't know why he'd never admitted it before. Yes he did. Her immaturity and cattiness had never hurt someone he loved before.

"What's got you so cranky?" Caroline asked somewhat warily. She hadn't heard much from him lately and had attributed it to his despondence over losing Jane. She still didn't feel comfortable with what she had done, but it seemed to have worked. She'd heard neither hide nor hair of Elizabeth or Jane Bennet for several weeks now.

"I just don't appreciate being stood up. I wanted you here at noon," Charles replied tersely.

Caroline knew something was up and decided she'd better behave. Being testy was atypical behaviour for Charles, indeed it was as rare as a total eclipse of the sun, and just as dark, for when someone so bright turns taciturn, the planets are definitely not properly aligned.

"Oh, Charles, I'm so sorry. It's just been so busy with the shop and I left my phone at my condo this morning. I've been run off my feet all day and it's Sunday! One never gets a weekend off when opening a business. I promise to be better in the future."

Charles only grunted to Caroline's soothing words. This did not bode well for the lady in question. She had wanted to avoid Charles as much as possible but found she needed another one of his loans as the shop's opening drew nearer. Little expenses were popping up and his last investment had just about dried up.

She didn't know if his mood would improve at all so she pushed forward with a voice drenched in saccharine. "While I'm here, I do have a favour to ask of you."

He had been looking down and rolled his eyes. He couldn't believe her gall. She has absolutely no clue, he thought as he looked up to her doey eyes. I'm her brother, for God's sake. Doesn't she know I don't fall for her innocent crap?

It was like a light had been turned on inside his brain for the first time in many years. Everything she'd ever done to annoy him was suddenly flashing before his eyes like a near-death experience. This should be happening to her, he thought sardonically.

"Go ahead," Charles urged, eager, in a twisted sort of way, to hear what her newest little 'favour' would be.

"Well, as I come closer to the opening, there are some establishments overseas who find this a great opportunity to make a little extra money. They're not guaranteeing shipment of some of the Indian and Chinese silks I'd ordered unless I grease some of the wheels, so to speak," Caroline explained quite honestly. However, she neglected to inform Charles of the minor point that she had been horribly rude and demanding to a few of her suppliers who had now decided to turn the tables.

"How much do you need this time, Caroline?" he asked but failed to reach for his chequebook as was his custom on these occasions.

"There are a couple of other little extras that have popped up as well. I think $25,000 should cover it," Caroline said with a completely straight face, no shame exhibited whatsoever.

"Twenty-five thousand dollars? To grease some palms? Who are you dealing with Caroline? A triad?" Charles was astounded at her lack of financial savvy and her total disregard for the value of money... his money. He had footed the bill for her entire little endeavour as she had seemed so serious and determined to succeed. He really thought if she could make a success of this shop, it would improve her disposition and give her something to concentrate on. He thought she would grow up. He knew she had worked hard at becoming a designer and he had wanted her to succeed but his bank-rolling was about to stop.

"Charles, why are you putting up such a fuss? What's wrong with you?" Caroline asked her scowling brother. She decided to venture into dangerous territory with the hope of getting him over his nasty mood by having him talk through it. "Are you still upset about your break- up? Why can't you get over it? You've gone out with many lovely women, was Jane so very different?"

Charles nearly leapt from his chair at these questions. His sister had some nerve bringing up what she thought was a failed relationship... an almost-failed relationship that was her doing. At that moment, he noticed Jane at the door and silently communicated with her not to say a word. She nodded and stood in place.

"Yes, it was different. If you must know I tried to get back together and she wouldn't, not only that, but I really didn't feel she was giving me the reason why she was staying away."

"Charles, Jane was a lovely woman, really, but I did talk with her on the way home from the party that night and I could tell she wasn't going to reconcile with you."

"Really, why do you say that?" Charles asked, genuinely interested. He silently hoped she would confess everything, redeeming herself for her detrimental behaviour. He was sadly mistaken.

"Well, she was very frustrated with your relationship with Darcy. She thought you two were too close and she felt it was strange," Caroline said, twisting the story to suit her interests. "I tried to explain that you two have always been close and that a woman's jealousy of your friendship often ruined relationships in the past but she was adamant that you two were just ... odd."

"Odd? Queer even?" Charles asked leadingly, narrowing his eyes to watch Caroline's reaction.

At this question she visibly flinched, and looking at his suspicious gaze, she stammered, "I ... I suppose that would be a more appropriate word."

"And she just openly admitted this to you, did she?" Charles pushed.

Now that she was caught in this story, she felt she needed to be more convincing. She didn't like Charles's behaviour and she wanted him to be his pliable, affable self again. She needed him in her corner, more importantly, she needed his money.

"Well, it took some prodding, but she eventually admitted she thought there was something far too intimate about your relationship." Caroline paused as Charles's eyes widened. She quickly added, "But Charles, I insisted that wasn't the case. I told her you two were friends and nothing more. She just didn't want to believe me. She felt that if you chose him over her, there was no other answer but that you wanted him as more than just a friend. It seemed a bit vain if you ask me. I mean, she didn't think it possible that a friendship was more important than a new relationship. I tried to explain, I really tried..."

Caroline looked down at her hands. She wasn't able to look her brother in the eyes as she wove her intricate web of lies. She silently held her breath hoping he believed her, hoping it would finally get him over his little dalliance with the pretty dentist.

Charles rose from his seat, hands behind his back, looking pensive. He walked past Caroline and finally said, "And is that how you remembered the conversation, Jane?"

"I seem to remember it a little differently, now that you ask, Charles," Jane answered calmly as she walked towards him.

Caroline swung violently around at the sound of her voice in time to see them entwine their fingers; Charles leading Jane to a loveseat.

"How... how long have you been here?" Caroline gasped, all colour drained from her face. She looked absolutely terrified.

"To be honest, off and on for about two weeks now," Jane replied calmly.

Caroline managed to walk over to the bar to shakily pour herself a glass of vodka... straight.

"Now, Caroline, would you care to revise your recollections at all? Did you get things a little mixed up?" Charles asked with a self- satisfied smirk. Gloating wasn't usually Charles's style, but he had to admit he enjoyed getting Caroline so rattled, particularly because she deserved it so.

"I... I don't know what to say. Maybe... maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Perhaps it wasn't Jane who said those things," Caroline said, tightly gripping the bar, knowing her web of lies was sticking to her with no way to break free.

She knew there was no way out of the trap she'd mistakenly set for herself so she decided to beg for their mercy. After all, Charles and Jane are rather forgiving... and usually gullible, she thought.

They had remained silent waiting for her to continue. She walked towards them, tears welling in her eyes, and sat in the chair before them.

"Can we shut the door?" Caroline asked, glancing back, not wanting the servants to hear.

"No, Caroline. We're waiting," Charles replied, brooking no opposition and not wanting any delays in her explanation. Caroline's day was not going to get any better.

~ * ~

Darcy noticed her Jaguar right away. He did not want to see Caroline today, he was a bundle of nerves as it was, and he didn't need her questions about where he was going. He was actually surprised to see her at Charles's - he knew Charles was the forgiving sort, but what she had done was unpardonable. He decided to enter through the kitchen and have Mrs. Murphy let Charles know he'd arrived, maybe then he could sneak upstairs and be out of the house without Caroline even noticing.

He tapped at the back door window and Mrs. Murphy smiled as she let him in. She was getting the evening meal ready and she tried to insist he have a piece of apple pie. He was able to convince her that he was too worried about getting anything on his tuxedo.

"Is Charles around?"

"Oh, I believe Mr. Bingley is rather busy at the moment," Mrs. Murphy replied gravely.

"On a Sunday?" Darcy asked in disbelief.

"Well, to be honest, I've heard raised voices. He and Ms. Bennet seem to be having a rather heated discussion with his sister," she whispered conspiratorially. She had never liked Ms. Bingley and wasn't exactly upset about the tongue-lashing she was getting from her brother.

Darcy explained to Mrs. Murphy why he was visiting and suggested, "Perhaps I'll just sneak up to Charles's room to try to find the cufflinks myself."

She nodded and he made his way to the stairs, but Caroline's shrill voice and what it was saying stopped him in his tracks.

"Charles, please let me explain. I didn't really want to break the two of you up, I really didn't. Jane, you're a wonderful woman and I'm a terrible person for letting my happiness come in the way of yours."

"What do you mean?" Charles asked.

"I needed to break the two of you up."

"But why? You're not making sense Caroline."

"The more you and Jane were together, the more Darcy and her sister would be thrown together. Now, I knew they'd argued that night, but I couldn't take the chance of having them in the same room again. I thought if I kept Jane away from you, I'd keep Elizabeth away from Darcy, so I indicated to Jane that I thought you might have been interested in Darcy... and because of your fight, she believed me. I thought that would rid me of my problems. You know I love Darcy, I've always loved him and finally this year things seemed to be heading in the right direction... and then... then... that woman got in the way. She's just a diversion. I'm the only one who knows him, knows what he needs in a wife. I've known him almost all my life. He just hasn't come to his senses yet."

As Darcy had slowly worked his way to the door, his eyes blackened in indignation. Not only had Caroline been conniving to interfere in his personal life, she had done so using her own brother, Jane and himself as pawns. He'd never heard anything so depraved in his life.

"I thought you were desperate, Caroline, but you are downright sick, not to mention delusional," Darcy boomed from behind her.

Caroline lowered her head into her hands. Could the gods be any crueller to her? But then, she looked at Charles and lashed out bitterly, "Did you plan this whole thing? Was this a set-up for me to be humiliated in front of all of you? What's next? Will little Miss Elizabeth show her face behind door number three?" "If you had been here on time for lunch, much of this would have been avoided," Charles pointed out, disgusted by her accusations. He walked to the bar to get himself a drink. Her behaviour was absolutely repulsive and he wanted to calm his nerves.

"Elizabeth is much too busy to be worrying about your petty jealousies. In fact, for all your plotting, I'll have you know you've failed. I'm on my way to see her now," Darcy said. He didn't usually like to kick someone while they were down, but hell, this was Caroline.

She looked at Darcy in his tuxedo and had just about enough of the abuse. She postured haughtily, trying vainly to appear composed. "Fine. Enjoy your triumph, just give me my cheque and I'll be on my way."

"Oh, we hadn't gotten to that yet, had we?" Charles asked spinning himself around to face her. "Caroline, I have no intention of providing you with a cheque today, nor any cheque in the future. You have a trust fund; if you use it accordingly you should have no trouble financing the rest of your business venture. You've shown no family loyalty, you've hurt the woman I love and you've tried to cover it up. I gave you a chance to speak the truth and you failed miserably. I want you out of my house and out of my life."

"You can't be serious. I can't live on my trust fund. It's a pittance."

"I guess you'll have to ensure your business is a success then," Charles concluded and turned his back on her. He couldn't even bear to look at her anymore.

"Fine. If you can't talk about this reasonably now, I'll let you calm down. We don't need to air our family business in front of the world," Caroline said, picking up her handbag and heading for the door.

"Caroline, as far as I'm concerned the only person in this room who isn't family, is you," Charles said icily.

Caroline nearly spoke but for the first time that day, wisely kept her mouth shut. She clicked down the hallway at a rapid pace and nearly stumbled over a Persian rug in her haste. When they heard the door slam, Charles turned to Darcy. "I'm sorry you had to hear that. This was supposed to have been dealt with hours ago. I didn't think she'd show up now."

"Don't worry, Charles. But why didn't you tell me about what she had said?" Darcy asked, a bit perturbed at not being told about a potentially damaging rumour.

"I was giving her one last chance, and don't worry, she didn't say you were gay, she just said I had the hots for you," Charles laughed cynically.

"Well, that makes so much difference," Darcy said, rolling his eyes.

"Are you okay, Jane?" Charles asked as she had been quiet throughout most of the argument.

"I'm fine. I just feel sorry for her," Jane said softly.

"Sorry for her?" Charles asked with as much puzzlement in his voice as was expressed on Darcy's face.

"I just wonder how she got to be so mean. Why doesn't she realize what a kind person you are and that you've only ever wanted to help her? Are her priorities that messed up? And how did she get this way?"

"Well, I can answer the last question. My parents indulged Caroline. She was a pretty baby, a pretty little girl and a striking young woman. She could do no wrong so was never punished accordingly. She always expects to get her way because she always did," Charles explained.

"So why didn't you end up this way?" Jane asked.

"I love my parents very much, but I know they didn't treat me the same way. I was a boy, so I was not indulged. In the end, I'm happier for it, although I never would have thought so at the time."

"Sorry to interrupt, Charles, but I'm now on a bit of a schedule. I didn't expect to be party to such a momentous occasion, although I'm glad I was. I wouldn't have wanted Caroline to think she had succeeded in any way. Can you get my cufflinks?"

"Your 'Get Lucky' cufflinks? Sure thing," Charles said casually, running up the stairs, happy to be distracted by another topic.

"What does he mean?" Jane asked suspiciously. She had noticed Darcy mentioning he was going to see Lizzy that night and hadn't recalled Lizzy mentioning anything about it. The 'Get Lucky' comment piqued her curiosity and her sisterly protectiveness.

I'm going to kill Charles, Darcy thought but replied calmly to Jane, "He's just teasing. A bad joke, too. He borrowed my favourite cufflinks a while back. They were a gift from my father and I want to wear them tonight as I consider them lucky. It's my first time seeing Elizabeth in a while. I want things to go well."

"How well?" Jane prodded apprehensively.

"I'd like to have the chance to speak with her, maybe have a dance or two, nothing more," Darcy answered, feeling like a young boy in front of the very motherly Jane.

"Does Lizzy know you're going to be at this event tonight?" Jane continued, not yet ready to back down.

"No, I'm afraid she doesn't, but I'm sure she'll be rather busy. I won't disturb her unless she has a free moment," Darcy replied honestly.

"Be good to her, Darcy," Jane advised, satisfied she'd made her point without being too pushy.

"I will if she'll let me," Darcy answered as Charles walked in the room.

~ * ~

Lizzy flitted about the Grand Hall as she gave the final instructions before the Queen's arrival to the museum. She spoke with a few servers ensuring all was up to snuff and busied herself by smoothing out tablecloths and watching the chefs garnish the salad in the kitchen. She finally came to the conclusion she was micromanaging and tried to relax. If there was any place in Canada where the servers were aware of protocol and appropriate behaviour at such an event, it was in the national capital area.

She walked over to one of the room's 60-foot high windows and gazed at the magnificent view, trying to calm her restlessness. She observed Parliament Hill high atop its rocky cliff across the Ottawa River from the museum. The Museum of Civilization was in the city of Gatineau in the province of Quebec, directly across the river from Ottawa. Gatineau profited from being next door to the capital with benefits such as the architecturally beautiful museum. The Grand Hall of the museum took advantage of the view and Lizzy took advantage of the magnificent setting to realize her restlessness had little to do with the Queen's imminent arrival - she had become quite adept at the preparations and had little worries - no, it was because she knew he was now near her, somewhere in the city. She would see him again soon, but at least she had nearly a week to prepare for the moment. She felt by that point she would be more together.

Lizzy returned to mill about the guests, happy to be able to separate work from her personal life. She was much calmer now, although she wanted to mention one more thing to Nancy, the Banquet Manager. She waved to Richard and Charlotte indicating she'd be over to speak with them momentarily and then began an animated conversation with Nancy.

That's when he saw her. He stood on the second floor balcony looking down into the Grand Hall and just watched her, absolutely mesmerized. She was talking to another woman, gesturing with her hands. That made him smile; the action had become so endearing to him. She was twenty- five feet below him and thirty feet away but his whole body felt a flush of warmth at the sight of her. He'd never seen anything more beautiful in his life and he stood frozen, content to watch her every move without making his presence known.

However, there was no need. As Lizzy spoke to Nancy, she could swear she felt the hair on her neck stand on end. She even shivered as a tingle poured down her spine. She felt a hot gaze upon her and her eyes dashed about the reception. No one seemed to be eyeing her specifically, yet she couldn't shake the feeling of being watched. Instinctively, she looked over to Richard and Charlotte. If he was here he'd probably be with them, but she knew he hadn't been on the invitation list.

Don't be so silly, she thought to herself as she tried to shake off the feeling, you get a chill and you think Darcy's watching you. What an ego!

But she just couldn't help herself and again, she looked at the multiple groups of people standing and chatting... and no Darcy. As she finished up with Nancy, she carefully panned the room once more and began to think she was cracking up, but impulsively lifted her eyes to the floor above to see a darkly handsome man stepping onto the top of the escalator. Shocked, she nearly fainted at the site of him, and the same warm flush that had invaded Darcy's body moments before had now transferred to hers. He entered her surroundings like a wonderfully packaged gift falling from heaven. He was simply the best- looking man who had ever graced a tuxedo, and she knew the only reason he was there was for her.

She momentarily forgot all about her duties and old what's her name who was to arrive at any moment. Her thoughts centered on the man slowly approaching and what he must be thinking of her. For Darcy looked impeccable as always, but Lizzy stood in her mother's 25th wedding anniversary forest green floor length gown and felt extremely dowdy and unprepared to see him. She had a small collection of evening gowns for her job but had gone through the lot as the tour progressed. She had called her mother ahead of time specifically asking for this one dress as is it was simple and dignified (if not a little boring)... something quite rare in her mother's wardrobe. Even so, she felt a little frumpy and the dress really didn't fit her body type properly, but it was comfortable and functional. She also knew she had a paleness about her and fairly dark circles under her eyes due to lack of sleep... of course that was partly Darcy's fault, but what was she going to say? Sorry I look like hell, but I keep thinking of you every night.

As she ruminated over these thoughts, all Darcy could think was how incredible it was to see her again. She looked lovely; she was never a more welcome sight to his eyes.

His slightly upturned mouth slowly widened into a dazzling grin showing off those fever-inducing dimples. Lizzy wasn't the only one staring as he approached. Every woman in that hall turned to watch his impressive entrance. They were all entranced; however, it was Lizzy's knees that nearly buckled. What he could do to her with one genuine smile. The words of his letter began to run through her mind and she had a sudden fear that by the time he reached her she'd just hike up her skirt and tell him to take her right there.

This explicit musing snapped her back into sense. What am I doing? Am I just going to start this pattern all over again? What kind of spell does he have on me that I'm ready to push him into an empty closet, just because of a smile and a tuxedo!

By the time he took her hand and kissed it gently, she had gained some semblance of propriety. In fact, his incredibly tender touch set off a completely different emotion - fear. She was nervous, and didn't know what to say, but managed a small, "Hello."

"Hello," he repeated softly. Her uneasiness showed. He thought he'd detected relief when she first saw him, but now she had a bit of the deer-caught-in-headlights look. All his ideas of being dashing and debonair floated into oblivion as he was unsure of what to do next.

"How's the tour going?" he asked as if that was all they had to talk about.

"Fine. It's been very smooth so far," Lizzy answered nervously.

"And... uh... when did you arrive in Ottawa?" he continued.

"Today. Didn't I mention that in my e-mail?" she answered again, slightly confused.

"Yes, of course. I believe you did," he replied, nodding his head and looking down at his shoes.

"How was your visit with your sister?" Lizzy asked, finally regaining some composure.

"Very nice," he responded, visibly relieved at the comfortable topic. "University life agrees with her. She's blossoming into a confident young woman."

"Good to hear, you must be very proud," Lizzy said, smiling slightly.

"I am," he replied and stood silent for a few moments before adding, "So the tour's wrapping up soon?" "Yes, they all leave Wednesday," Lizzy answered, furrowing her brow slightly, knowing she had given him all this information in her letter. Suddenly, she realized the time. "If you'll excuse me, the entourage will be here any moment. I have to be at the red carpet to meet them." "Of course," he said, allowing her to pass. He watched her walk away and felt quite like a love struck adolescent as he relived the stilted conversation, but it didn't stop him from keeping his eyes on her all night. He continued to watch her, fascinated, as she kept track of everything throughout the evening, whispering instructions to a waiter as she finally sat down at her table, casually rising and speaking to security, and winking playfully at a guest speaker as he nervously rose to do his duties. She caught Darcy's penetrating gaze every once in a while. He never looked away, he was quite content to let her know she was his one and only interest at the event. It was always Lizzy who averted her eyes, usually blushing at his intensity and what it roused in her.

By studying her intently, he finally noticed that her weeks away had had a tiring effect. There were moments when she let her guard down and he saw her rubbing her temple or resting her eyes for a ten second break. A surge of protectiveness overwhelmed him and he had to will himself from rushing to her and whisking her out of the place. He wanted to take her home and spoil her, pamper her, massage her, soothe her; but he knew those possibilities were a while away. He wished she trusted him a little more, but he knew he had to earn it. Seeing his pensive stare, Richard tried to engage him in some conversation but couldn't pull Darcy's attention away from its one focus.

As the evening progressed, an orchestra began playing and a few couples tentatively made their way to the dance floor. Lizzy stood with Charlotte as Richard hob-knobbed with some British ex-pats, although he couldn't help but turn and wink at Charlotte every now and then. The ladies were catching up on their lives; Lizzy learning how nicely Charlotte and Richard's relationship was evolving, Charlotte learning that Lizzy wasn't exactly comfortable with Darcy being there... not that Lizzy said it, it was what she didn't say that told the story.

The man himself decided to push his luck. He missed the feel of her in his arms, he wanted to touch her again, and knew the most non- threatening way to do this was to ask her to dance. He approached her more confidently than earlier but still didn't know what to expect from her.

"Elizabeth," he said with a hopeful smile, "Would you care to dance?"

An uncertain Lizzy lowered her eyes, looked back up and then looked down again. "I don't think it's a good idea, Darcy. I'm still on duty, you know."

She knew perfectly well it wasn't out of the question to dance, but she was a little peeved at his constant stare and his determination. It made her quite nervous. She had asked him to wait, but he had manoeuvered an invitation to this private function in order to see her. Now, he was asking her to dance. She simply felt pressured.

Darcy felt shot down again, but he watched all the emotions pass over Lizzy's face and knew he was beginning to push her buttons a little too aggressively.

"Of course," he replied dejectedly, glancing at Charlotte. "I'll let you work."

As he walked away, she nearly stomped her feet in frustration at the situation. She just wasn't ready, didn't he understand that? He had no right to barge into her work life and upset her equilibrium. Couldn't he wait just a few more days? Charlotte broke through her self- absorbed thoughts.

"Why on earth did you say no to him?"

"Charlotte, he just showed up here for no other reason than to see me when I explicitly asked him to wait until next week. He's stared at me all night; it's been very disconcerting. I have a job to do, you know," Lizzy answered stubbornly.

"So, let me get this straight. A man has shown up at a gala event alone, looking dazzling in his tuxedo, ignores every other woman in the room so he can spend the night looking at you - a man who's very interested, very handsome and very rich... and you're upset with him over this. You - a woman who has admitted being attracted to him. Oh, I totally see why you'd be livid," Charlotte summed up sarcastically.

Lizzy was about to defend her arguments when she looked over to Darcy, whose usual intense stare had been replaced by what could only be called puppy-dog eyes. He looked dejected, hurt and in need of a hug. She felt horrible and cursed herself for thinking a dance was a problem. Turning to Charlotte, she said, "You're right. I can't exactly begin a relationship with him by pushing him away, can I? I'll go and ask him to dance. I've still got about 15 to 20 minutes left before the entourage leaves."

"I think that's the smartest decision you've made all night. I also think asking him to dance would go a long way in getting that pathetic look off his face. Man, he's got it bad for you." Charlotte shook her head in amazement. She adored Richard, but she easily recognized this man's all-encompassing magnetism. Lizzy was going to be a lucky woman when she finally got her act together and gave in to her true feelings.

Lizzy headed toward Darcy who was now sitting next to his animated cousin. She looked straight at him and smiled apologetically. His eyes lit up in hope until she was waylaid on her journey by Nigel, the British attaché with whom she had travelled for the past couple of weeks. She really liked Nigel, he was energetic and funny and never failed to tell her how brilliant she was, but he had horrible timing.

"Lizzy, I can't let you go without having a dance with you. I believe this is our last opportunity and I want to tell the boys at home how I was able to charm a magnificent Canadian lady," he said jovially.

As much as she wanted to leave Nigel in the dust, she truly didn't have the heart to turn him away. They had had a great time together during the tour and he had only ever been a gentleman. He had never personally requested anything from her and she wasn't about to disappoint him now.

"Of course, Nigel," Lizzy said, letting him lead the way, with a fleeting glance towards Darcy.

Darcy nearly cut in five seconds after the two made it to the dance floor. He was certain she was on her way to speak to him when that British flunky had intercepted her. He was not a happy man and the puppy-dog eye look had transformed into a piercing Doberman-like gaze.

As the song neared its end, Lizzy knew she had to be honest with her new friend.

"I'm afraid I have to limit you to just one dance, if you'll forgive me. I've promised someone else a dance as well, and I think the clock is going to strike twelve pretty soon for this Cinderella," Lizzy said as diplomatically as possible.

"Ah, do you mean to say your Prince Charming is here?" Nigel asked, catching on quickly as he jokingly looked around the room. She hadn't really meant to infer it, but it was the obvious assumption for Nigel to make, and when she thought about it, she replied with a shy smile. "I think he just might be."

As she turned to find Darcy, he was still staring intently. I'll have to speak to him about that. It can really be intimidating, she thought as she walked towards him. Not wanting to have her change course from her destination again, he got up to meet her.

"I see you managed to find time to dance after all," Darcy said more harshly than he intended. Lizzy bit her lip and decided she'd soothe his battered ego.

"I'm afraid he got in the way of my intended destination. I wanted to say I was wrong for turning you down earlier and wondered if you'd still like to?"

"I'd love to," he said, relief apparent on his face, guiding her to the dance floor, lightly pressing the small of her back. Her body reeled at his delicate touch, but she wasn't quite comfortable. Although it wasn't terribly intimate contact, her reaction to him always seemed to push her emotions and desires into fast forward far too easily. She needed to learn how to press pause every once in a while, but she hadn't yet figured out how to do that. He smiled as he took her in his arms for the first time since that fateful night more than a month before. For him, everything seemed at peace in the world. Being able to touch her, feel the warmth of her soft body against his and smell her sweet fragrance was a monumental achievement. When she had left him that night, he felt he might never see her again, he knew he'd wrecked a perfectly lovely evening with so many mistakes. But now... now she was here with him and he never wanted to let her go.

He held her tightly and closed his eyes, bowing his head so that his lips brushed her hair. He felt so at ease in her arms, it took him a moment to realize that her body was not responding similarly. In fact, she seemed rather tense. He backed away a bit and looked down upon her strained face and was utterly confused.

"Are you alright, Elizabeth?" he asked.

"I'm fine," she said a little weakly. The truth was she was terribly nervous. On the one hand, it felt amazing to be in his arms again, on the other, she had so many doubts. Perhaps she was overreacting, but she felt she didn't know enough about the man to feel as strongly as she did about him and although he expressed himself eloquently in his letter, she wasn't trusting enough to believe his every word. Since she'd known him, he had volleyed back and forth, from being incredibly smooth to incomprehensibly hurtful, and now he was being shy and pushy at the same time. Clouding the situation even further was the fact he looked absolutely devastating. Her attraction simply scared her just as it had the night of the party.

"You're not fine, please tell me what's wrong," Darcy urged.

"I'm just tired, that's all," she said, lowering her face so she didn't have to look him in the eye. She didn't really want to tell him the truth, she felt she expressed her opinion enough in her letter and she didn't feel the need to elaborate further. The problem had inreased exponentially - her hectic schedule had combined with the rough seas of her love life and they had taken their toll. The result was she was actually trembling in his arms.

Darcy was learning from past experiences and finally clued in. He gently nudged her chin up so she couldn't help but look at him. With the tenderest of voices, he asked, "Are you afraid of me? Should I not have come here tonight?"

"Well, it was a little presumptuous of you, wasn't it?" Lizzy answered with a question of her own.

If it weren't for the situation, Darcy would have smiled at her direct reply. She certainly didn't mince words with him so he answered as frankly as she had.

"I wanted to see you, Elizabeth. I needed to see you. I've missed you. But if you'd like me to leave, just say the word," he offered cheerlessly.

"Darcy, no. I don't expect you to leave. Besides I'll be leaving shortly anyway."

Darcy just wanted to do the right thing as far as Elizabeth was concerned but he hadn't a clue as to what she wanted. He decided to just lay it on the line as he practically begged, "Elizabeth, what would you have me do? What do you want from me? Just tell me and I'll do it."

His humble plea took her breath away. She looked at his questioning eyes and knew at once his request was genuine. He would do anything to make things right. She just wished she had a proper answer for him. She wasn't trying to play hard to get, she was just so tentative. No matter how much he wanted to convince her that he was ready to take things at her pace, she wasn't convinced. She also knew how easily she could give in to his charms given the right situation.

She didn't want to admit all these things to him. However, she wanted to answer him as honestly as possible. "Thank you for asking, but I guess I'm in the same place as you. I'm not sure what I want from you. I am glad you came tonight, although I have to admit I was quite shocked when I first saw you. I think when you came towards me I was the envy of every woman in the room, and from the looks I'm getting, I still am."

His eyes dropped bashfully at her remark and a wry smile graced his face. He had received similar comments from women in the past, but coming from Elizabeth, the playful teasing just meant so much more. "Elizabeth..." he warned lightly.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you to just say thank you to a compliment?" she asked, cocking her head coquettishly.

"Thank you," he replied dutifully, laughing at her instructions and enjoying the fact she had begun to act a bit more comfortably... a bit more like the confident Elizabeth he had fallen for.

Lizzy continued with her thoughts about him being here. "Now even though I admit to glad to see you, it doesn't mean I'm 100 percent happy you're here. I meant what I said in my letter. I'm still nervous about how we react with each other and I want to take it slow."

"I understand," Darcy replied, but her admission inspired him to push things just a little more, "but I'd like to see you again before next Saturday. It's such a long time away."

"Darcy..." Lizzy responded, as if cautioning him. "What about Wednesday when they all leave?" he asked. The truth was, now that she was in his arms, she wanted to see him again sooner than Saturday as well. He did feel incredible and touching him felt divine. She heard herself bending to his wishes quicker than she could ever imagine.

"Would late Wednesday night be possible? I'll be at the Congress Centre until almost 10:30 or so, but I think I could meet you for a drink somewhere downtown."

"Why don't I pick you up there?" he suggested.

Lizzy thought for a moment and figured there wouldn't be any harm in it, at least not for her.

"Alright, but I'd suggest you wait in your car. The event there will consist almost entirely of women," Lizzy advised cryptically.

"I suppose I should take your advice then," he said laughing. "I'll be in a silver Mercedes, an S500."

"Okay, it's a da-" Lizzy began, but Nigel caught her eye before she could finish her thought. "Oops, it looks like I have to leave you now. Duty calls."

Darcy grabbed her hand before she walked away. His firm grasp sent a bolt of electricity through her body and she turned her head to see his piercing gaze upon her again.

"Why is it you're always walking away from me?" Darcy asked, quite honestly.

Lizzy turned to face him fully before departing. Impulsively, she reached up, placing one hand on his neck, her thumb lightly caressing his jaw. She then lightly kissed his cheek. She smiled brightly up at him, feeling more comfortable in his presence after their dance and discussion. Her eyes were dark, deep and open as she replied, "This time, Darcy, I'm not leaving you willingly. Until Wednesday."

"Until Wednesday," Darcy replied, smiling again, touched by her gesture and vainly wishing he could speed up time itself.

Chapter X

Part I

Lizzy lay on her bed after the alarm had sounded. The tour was over; the entourage had departed and they were all well on their way to merry old England. All the other protocol employees involved had tried to convince her to celebrate but she politely declined. She needed a nap as her night was only going to get busier.

The one-hour she had allowed for sleep was like giving a droplet of water to a parched man. She looked at the clock and wished she could somehow cancel her plans... but she had made the commitment long ago, in fact, it had been her idea in the first place. Mind you, it had all been planned prior to the behemoth that was the Royal Tour.

Lizzy had convinced, Jane, Charlotte, Mary Ellen and her boss Carol to book a table at Ottawa's 9th Annual Bachelor Auction in support of breast cancer research. The ladies had collected a few more friends and had been able to buy an entire table of ten. They had all been quite excited as they'd all heard numerous stories about the antics of the women in the audience, not to mention the men on-stage.

Now, Lizzy wished she could can the whole thing and just stay in bed until she was to meet Darcy... because there was no way she wanted to miss that. Oh, how things have changed, she thought as she rose from the bed. What was it about that man that made her give in so easily to his charms? She worked in a sphere where she interacted with handsome, wealthy, powerful men on a regular basis, yet none had affected her the way he had, none had given her goose-bumps, none had made her so sexually frustrated and none had made her feel so special.

Before Sunday night, she had been prepared to wait a week to see him again, yet when he held her, no matter how uneasy she was about his commitment to her, she was desperate to be with him, and she had capitulated to his request immediately. The fact was, she was happy to do it, and she began to believe his intentions were genuine. He was willing to be patient and it meant the world to her. She was now longing to see him, where before she had felt an impending sense of fear.

Her only worry was to have him find out what this event was before it occurred. She'd noticed his rather jealous streak; it had reared its head at Charles's party and even at the reception on Sunday. She knew he wouldn't be impressed with her evening's entertainment - but he didn't own her, nor would her plans have changed had they been seeing each other steadily. She wanted to have fun with her friends and although she was exhausted, thoughts of Darcy's green-eyed monster made her determined to go, regardless of whether she fell asleep in her wine glass once she got there.

~ * ~

The room was filled with 200 eager ladies. There was no particular age group or walk of life, except for the fact they had to be willing to hell out $60 a pop to get into the event, and also be willing to bid on the delicious selection of single men being offered. They ranged from professional hockey players, to community leaders, to local media celebrities. Some were handsome, some weren't, but each came with a package of activities to be fulfilled the day of the 'date', for when a woman paid for the services of a bachelor, this included many other benefits.

Before the show got underway, many women took the opportunity to network or chitchat but Lizzy stood at the long table at the far end of the reception hall. She was dressed in a pretty cream pantsuit with a simple short jacket, perfectly coordinated with a fitted pale green scoop-necked top, lightly woven with sparkles - suitable for an evening out, but one she managed to wear it to work on occasion.

The table showed photos of all the potential bachelors along with their benefits. Some included limousine rides, dinners, concerts, and even a spa treatment or two before the gentleman even entered the picture. As she sipped on a glass of Chardonnay, Lizzy was thrilled when she read a local sportscaster's deal.

Instant Gratification

Are you a spur of the moment kind of woman? Do you know what you want and want it now? Try this date on for size.

Your handsome escort will pick you up in style in a stretch limousine, taking you away to dinner at the National Arts Centre's Le Café. You will then have choice seats at soprano Renée Fleming's one-night only special performance and will be returned home by your Prince Charming for the evening. Sound heavenly? It is, but it's also short notice. Ms. Fleming's performance is this Friday.

Lizzy had been dying to get tickets to this concert. Renée Fleming had one of the most incredible voices on the planet, but almost all the tickets had been dolled out through invitation only, and she wasn't part of the society-types who received this special treatment. She had been bitterly disappointed, but now... now, she had a chance to go. And the date is pretty hot-looking too, she thought as she glanced at the photo again.

"Are you checking out my package?" a husky voice asked softly in her ear. Lizzy whipped around to face a live version of the handsome mug she held in her hand.

She laughed in spite of his close proximity. That was quite an opening line, so of course, Lizzy played right along.

"As a matter of fact, I am," she replied audaciously with a deep, alluring voice. To this she received a hearty laugh and a devastating smile. Nothing compared to another man's, she thought, but very handsome nonetheless.

"It's very nice to meet you, I'm George-"

"Wickham. I gathered that," Lizzy cut him off, nodding towards his photo.

"I still like to formally introduce myself, even though people recognize me," he explained. "And you are?"

"Lizzy Bennet," she replied holding out her hand for a handshake. George took it and lifted it to his mouth, kissing her softly but lingering a little longer than necessary.

God, what a flirt, Lizzy thought to herself. She raised an eyebrow as he released her hand. She'd play along for a little while.

"You do have something that I want, though," she continued provocatively. This made George's day and he took a step closer.

"And what would that be?" he urged.

She looked him up and down, as if judging his physique and potential stamina and replied cheekily, "Tickets to Renée Fleming's concert, of course. What do you think I meant?" "Ouch, you know how to shoot a man down," George said, dramatically stumbling backwards and holding his chest as if mortally wounded."It's a gift," Lizzy answered laughing. The man was a bit too forward for her taste, but harmless enough, at least he laughed at her jibe, rather than being affronted. She figured she could tolerate his company for one night should she have the winning bid. Heck, he might even be fun if he could be taught what line not to cross.

"So Ms. Bennet, have you been to this event before?" George asked, continuing the conversation, not yet willing to leave the intriguing Ms. Bennet.

"Please, call me Lizzy, and no, this is my first bachelor auction," she explained and took a sip of her wine.

"Ah... a virgin." George countered back.

Lizzy nearly sprayed the wine onto his finely tailored wool suit, but she managed to swallow it and reply, "Touché."

"It would be my pleasure," George replied huskily again, but his comments and looks were taking on a more lascivious nature and it was beginning to creep Lizzy out. She enjoyed light-hearted banter, and she admittedly flirted back, but there was a time to back away, and she knew that time was imminent.

"Well, Mr. Wickham, I should head back to my friends," she said rather formally and he caught on to her discomfort almost immediately.

"Don't be afraid of me, Lizzy. I was only kidding, and please, call me George," he explained with innocent eyes. She nearly felt foolish for her behaviour, he looked so truthful, but his eyes couldn't keep from momentarily slipping from her eyes to her cleavage. She knew he was trying to play her and she knew to be careful.

"Oh, I'm not afraid of you, George, don't you worry," she retorted with a mix of sarcasm and sweetness that confused him greatly. He wasn't sure how to read this woman - in his view, she had shamelessly flirted with him and then tried to back away, much like most of the inexperienced women with whom he usually dealt, but the smoothness of her delivery, the devilish look in her eye, made him feel she was anything but inexperienced.

He decided on another approach. "So, what do you for a living?"

Seeing he wanted to continue the conversation didn't make her day, so she answered, "Why don't we save those types of questions until our date?"

"Oh, you're that certain you're going to get the winning bid? Desperate for me already?" he asked with a look as sly as a fox.

She simply replied, "Desperate, indeed, aren't I?"

He didn't quite know how to take that, but he decided not to over-analyze. He'd save his charms for Friday night when they were alone.

"It's been a pleasure, Lizzy," George said, taking her hand before she had a chance to shove it behind her back. Again, he kissed it longer than necessary and instead of it seeming gallant, it just seemed slimy. Thank you, George, I'll see you again soon, I'm sure," Lizzy replied, purposely not repeating his sentiment. He watched her walk away, enjoying the sway of her rounded bottom, before moving on to another woman standing nearby.

All Lizzy wanted to do was go back to the table and replay the laughable conversation to Charlotte and Mary Ellen. They would so enjoy hearing about the man's icky attempts at double entendres. He reminded her of some of the men from the Latin delegation - no, she thought, they were much more upfront with what they wanted.

She didn't have the chance to make it back to her seat, however, as she was stopped by none other than Caroline, who looked like the cat who'd eaten the canary. Lizzy couldn't help but think that when Caroline had a smug look on her face, it gave her an air of constipation.

"Elizabeth, my dear, I see you're flirting with disaster."

Lizzy furrowed her brow; she had no idea what Caroline was talking about. She also had no clue why this woman even dared talk to her. She had to know Lizzy was aware of what she'd done to Jane and Charles.

Lizzy's confused look delighted Caroline even more and she continued. "Wasn't that George Wickham you were talking to?"

"Yes," Lizzy answered and then thought she'd figured out Caroline's thought process. "Why do you ask? Are you intending on bidding on him? Seems you and I have similar taste."

Lizzy was trying to behave, but she couldn't help but make that last comment.

"We certainly do not. I wouldn't lower myself to spending money on the likes of him. You obviously-" Caroline stopped. She was about to tell Lizzy of Darcy's strong dislike of the man, but thought better of it. Let her learn all by herself and face the consequences, she thought.

"I obviously what?" Lizzy asked.

"You obviously find that sort of man interesting. I'm sure you'll enjoy your evening with him," Caroline said sneeringly, covering up her intended train of thought.

"Excuse me, Caroline. I'm going back to my friends," Lizzy said, ending the conversation. She didn't need to waste her precious time with someone whom she abhorred, and she knew the feeling was mutual.

Lizzy shook off the encounter quickly, deciding to focus on having a good time with her closest friends. The evening progressed swimmingly. The early morning radio show shock jock Rock'N Robin was the mistress of ceremonies and she was in her glory. Her day job included working with two raunchy men and she was more than up to challenging them. In fact, her nasty opinions on the opposite sex made her as popular with male listeners as were the male DJs. Men were sometimes gluttons for punishment and she was ready to dish it out.

Perhaps their leniency towards her views had something to do with the fact Robin was the equivalent of an Amazon princess. At public appearances men flocked to her and there was no mistaking why. At tonight's festivities, she was clad in form-fitting leather pants and four-inch high shit-kicking leather boots, making her at least 6' 2". Her auburn hair flowed over her transparent black blouse, and her modesty was only in place due to her sequined black bra. Visible to all was her one-carat diamond, safely ensconced in her belly button. She had the look of a dominatrix and she was ready to crack her whip against any man who misbehaved in her presence. Needless to say, she was having a great time commanding the three-ring circus that was a bachelor auction.

And this was no ordinary auction. Yes, all the ladies had their numbered paddles, ready and willing to bid for their favourite man. The runway was T-shaped, giving every table a close-up view of the goods. However, women hooted and hollered, they cheered and jeered and no one remained quietly in their seats. Robin didn't feel the need to keep a break-neck pace and her auctioneering style left a bit to be desired, however, no bid was missed, even with relatively dim lights and hard-rock background tunes. Robin had organized and hosted this event since its humble beginning, and what looked like chaos was actually a finely tuned machine.

Around ten o'clock, Lizzy finally got to see her desired purchase. After Caroline's dissing of the man, she had felt a little sorry for him, softening her regard for his behaviour. She was willing to spend an evening with him and she convinced herself he wouldn't be so bad. She listened as Robin gave a brief bio of his work, his charitable activities and his need to depart right after the bidding had concluded. He had his sports report to give at about 11:20 that night. He was cutting it close.

Lizzy was the first lady with her paddle up and continued to bid as the price escalated. However, she knew her limits. She had vowed to spend a maximum $400, maybe $450. She had seen some dates go for $250 and one hockey player had managed to be sold for $2200. She knew George was handsome, but she hoped those who wanted to see Renée Fleming already had tickets.

Darcy arrived early. He decided that if Lizzy was early, he'd be ready, no need to waste a precious moment. He sat in his car, fidgeting with gadgets he never had the time or inclination to figure out, but ultimately patience was not his strong suit and as the minutes ticked by, he grew restless.

Just after ten, he drove across the street to the Westin Hotel and gave the doorman $50 with the promise of $50 more if he'd let him park by the door. The bellman willingly obliged and Darcy headed into the Congress Centre focussed on finding Lizzy.

As he made his way to the foyer of the main banquet room, he finally read the event name and almost walked right back out the door. He had been asked to participate in the auction each year, and each time he politely declined, ensuring a generous donation was given in lieu of his appearance. However, he noticed the lights seemed dim, and the women would probably be focused on the stage... perhaps he could peek in without being noticed.

One of the comments about the current bachelor on-stage tweaked his ear. He could have sworn he heard "George" and "sportscaster", and suddenly, the idea of being seen was the least of his worries. When he looked inside the room, he saw none other than Lizzy shooting her arm up, bidding on the useless excuse for a human being.

When he approached her, he regained some sense of his surroundings and quickly bent down to look at her, face turned from the stage. Her eyes lit up upon seeing him but changed dramatically when she mirrored the look on his face.

"What are you doing?" he asked, without so much as a 'hello'.

She was confused by his question and stern look. I thought he was supposed to be the kinder, gentler, new and improved Darcy.

"What are you doing here?" she asked back accusingly.

At the sound of her reaction, he softened his approach, realizing she had no clue why he'd be so upset.

"I got impatient. I was hoping you'd leave early," he replied honestly, momentarily forgetting the man on-stage.

Lizzy smiled - he really could be adorable when he just talked from the heart, but she wasn't ready to go. "Oh, I can't. I'm in the middle of bidding on this guy."

"Don't bid on him, Elizabeth," Darcy said. It wasn't a request.

"Excuse me?" Lizzy couldn't believe him.

"I'd rather you stop bidding," he said, trying to change his tactic.

"That's nice, but whether I stop or not is my decision."

"I just don't want you anywhere near that... that man," Darcy nearly spat.

"Not a fan of the dashing TV reporter?" Lizzy asked sarcastically while raising her hand in another bid. "This isn't funny," Darcy replied, wanting to yank her hand down, but knowing that would be pushing her too far. His temper was rising, he did not want to have this conversation with her at the present moment and the evening was definitely not going as planned. He was trying to control his emotions but was having little success.

"Jealousy doesn't become you," she stated, raising her arm again. Trying to keep up with his warped logic, as well as the bidding, was getting a bit confusing. He was being irrational and demanding, and nothing like the man she thought she was beginning to understand.

"It's not jealousy, Elizabeth. Would you please just do as I suggest?"

"I did not hear you suggest anything. I only heard an order."

"I would rather you not bid on this particular man," Darcy said, finally realizing he hadn't given her a reason, although he wasn't prepared to give a complete answer.

"Why?" Lizzy asked, momentarily sidetracked from the bidding.

"He can't be trusted," was Darcy's only statement.

"I'm not going to marry him, I'm just bidding on a night out for charity," Lizzy explained, exasperated with his brevity, so she continued bidding. "I want to go to a sold out performance on Friday night... Renée Fleming. I've been dying to go."

"I'm sure I can get hold of some tickets. I'll take you. Just please, listen to me."

"Listen to you tell me what to do? Haven't you learned anything, Darcy? Was all your letter just nice, fancy words so that I'd see you again?"

"Of course not... just... please, don't bid on him anymore, as a favour to me."

"You're just asking nicely to get your way. You're not explaining yourself," Lizzy countered through gritted teeth.

"Fine, just don't sleep with him okay? You may catch something," he spat out petulantly.

Lizzy let out a great big laugh upon hearing his words and looking at his face. He was quite put out. "Sleep with him? I don't even know him! Why would I do that when I haven't even slept with you yet?"

Lizzy raised her hand again, reflexively.

While he couldn't argue her logic, he wasn't ready to give up. "I would rather if you didn't bid anymore. He and I have a past. He's not to be trusted and I'd prefer if you didn't spend time with someone so beneath you."

Lizzy put her hand down and looked him straight in the eye. "There. Was that so hard? If you'd only had said that originally, I'd have listened. I'll stop."

She was rather relieved; she had no idea how high the bidding had gone.

"Sold to #43 for $1000," proclaimed Robin from the dais.

"Oh, my God, 43... that's me! $1000, oh no!" Lizzy exclaimed with widened eyes.

As the announcer once again described the package she had purchased, she explained her predicament to Darcy. "One-thousand dollars? I bought him for $1000? I don't have that kind of money to waste. I was going to stop at $400, maybe $450! Darcy, you drove me to distraction!"

Darcy quickly felt he had the solution. "I'll pay for it. Don't worry."

"No, no, I wasn't meaning that," Lizzy answered, still stunned by what she saw as her own stupidity. "It's ultimately my fault. I should have been paying attention."

"Elizabeth, be reasonable. Let me buy it from you, then you don't have to go out with him. You have no responsibility for forfeiting." Darcy felt that was the logical conclusion to the situation. He'd make sure she had the tickets she wanted and he could toss the prize into the Ottawa River.

"Oh, so this is your way of getting me out of this date, is it?" she asked scornfully. Suddenly the spotlight shone on her and she managed to smile on cue, as if pleased with outcome.

Darcy kept his face hidden in case Wickham saw him with Lizzy. He didn't need him to know they were involved in any way. However, Wickham had already taken his leave - he was in a hurry to get to the newscast.

"Congratulations on your $1000 purchase, #43," Robin said, scanning a paper handed to her moments before. "Elizabeth Bennet, we hope you enjoy your evening."

As Robin stared at the woman, she noticed an imposing looking man crouched down beside her. When she caught his profile, she had no doubt whom he was, and there was no way she was going to let this opportunity pass her by. "Well, Elizabeth, who do you have with you there? I must say, you have excellent taste in men. If it isn't Mr. William Darcy himself."

Robin's mind was spinning like a hamster wheel at full power. Each year, Darcy had consistently rejected all requests to appear at the bachelor auction. He always gave generously, however Robin knew it would be a public relations coup for the charity and herself if she had that man on-stage. Darcy had just walked into the lion tamer's cage and he wasn't getting out unscathed. She quickly organized her thoughts.

"Well, since we have Ottawa's leading bachelor here, what do you say ladies? Let's get him up here. After all, it is for charity, he can't refuse."

The last sentence sounded more like a threat than an invitation. Darcy smiled politely and shook his head. He was not willing to take the bait, but little did he know, Robin was on a mission and she would not fail. She had been running this auction since its inception and she was tired of being rejected by this particular denizen of high society.

"Ladies, I think Mr. Darcy needs a little encouragement, perhaps he's a little shy. Why don't you try to cheer him on."

The women in the crown needed no further urging; they all wanted the chance to be seen with the devastatingly handsome, overwhelmingly wealthy man. While they cheered, Robin moved quickly, calling over her techies and assistants.

"Okay, I want dinner at Le Baccara and a stretch limo for the evening. I also want a full spa treatment for the bidder. Now... the stick-in-the-mud over there still doesn't seem to be budging, but I'll get him up here if I have to heave him up with my bare hands," she quipped behind gritted teeth. Her crew could tell, she wasn't kidding. "Ron, put on that Elvis/JXL mix - A Little Less Conversation* - and spool it so that it repeats. He'll be up here awhile and the music will suit him, don't you think?"

Darcy was stuck. There was no escape and he knew it. Indeed, if he tried, he would face a room full of angry women, and possibly national television coverage for walking out on a charity function. He had been ambushed by a quick-thinking radio personality only because he couldn't stay away from Lizzy. He resolved to make this horrible situation work for him somehow... though he hadn't figured out how yet.

"Why is it that whenever we're in public together, you manage to get me to do something I loathe?" he asked, turning to Lizzy.

She was highly amused by the various expressions on his face during the last few minutes - shock, anger and finally resignation. She burst into laughter after he said those words.

"Are you blaming me? Don't even think about it. Besides, it's for charity - you have to do it. Be careful though, Caroline's here tonight as is the thrice-married bottle-blonde barracuda Denise Charron. I suspect you'll create a true bidding war. Wonder who will win your delightful presence?" she asked, trying to hold in her mirth at his discomfort. Oh, serves you right, Darcy, she thought as she recalled his irrational demands only moments ago.

Darcy had been crouched down all this time, trying to reason with Lizzy about Wickham to no avail, but now, even more importantly, he needed her agreement in what he was about to ask. He moved before her, took her hand and on bended knee he began, "Elizabeth, I'm going to ask... no, beg, for you to do something."

He was so serious and in such a compromising position she was startled into solemnity.

"Go ahead," she said hesitantly.

"I need you to bid on me. No matter how high it goes, I want you to bid higher. I don't want any other woman in this place to buy a date with me. Do I make myself clear?" He knew he needed to get up on-stage shortly, Robin's foot was tapping impatiently and the cheering was starting to turn a bit ugly.

Lizzy was incredulous. "I just spent $1000. I can't afford-"

He cut her off. "I will pay...however high it goes. I will pay, but I beg you, don't leave me to these vultures."

She would have laughed at his figure of speech but for the tense, terrified and sober look of his face. "How high should I bid?" Lizzy asked, not exactly understanding what he meant. She had never been at liberty to spend as freely as he seemed to be asking; she needed some kind of guideline.

"The sky's the limit - any amount. Do you understand?" he asked, his grave eyes never wavering from hers.

"I have to have a ceiling of some sort, Darcy," she tried to explain.

"Elizabeth, listen to me. At this point, I would be willing to spend a million dollars not to go through with this scenario... and as appealing as I might seem to some women... I don't think anyone in this room will bid that high," he said, finally cracking a smile. "So, you're free to bid. I promise, I'll cover it."

She finally grasped his meaning, and the enormity of his need for her to comply, and smiled back at him. "Is this your way of ensuring you get me out on a date in case I was angry with you about earlier? You know you could have just taken your chances and asked."

With that, his smile broadened and he kissed her hand discreetly. He dropped his wallet onto her lap.

"That's insurance, and by the way, I owe you big time," he said, as Elvis began to blare in the background.

"Oh, you bet you do," Lizzy said archly.

"Well, Mr. Darcy, how long will you keep us waiting?" Robin interrupted the couple's moment.

Darcy stood, adjusted his jacked and casually walked to the stage. A boisterous, cheerful cry erupted from the crowd. This is going to be torture.

Robin momentarily turned the microphone off to chat with the man. "Glad you finally saw things my way," she said with a smug smile.

"This is blackmail, you know," he replied darkly.

"Oh, don't be so dour, it's for a worthy charity after all. Now... you have the chance to be interviewed by me... you know, to spark the crowd's interest, but I suspect you'll wave that option."

He nodded.

"Well then, all you have to do is walk on the catwalk as the bidding goes on," Robin explained, pointing out to his stage. In his eyes, it looked more like an airline runway.

"I can't just stand here?" he asked in disbelief.

"Not on your life, buster. You have to model the goods." Robin was not backing down. She had the man on her turf and he was going to do as she said.

"Like a piece of meat..." he muttered joylessly.

"Like a piece of meat," she repeated, raising her brow and giving him a deliberate once over. "You're up, Mr. Darcy. Show 'em what you got."

Robin turned the microphone back on and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen..."

At the mention of gentleman, Darcy shot Robin a sharp stare. Men too?

Again, the gregarious woman smirked in delight, "Let's start the bidding at $250."

Within 30 seconds, they were up to $1000. Even though the man in question was trying to avoid any eye contact with anyone, staring directly at the back wall, those who were bidding hardly noticed his reticence. As the King played and disco lights flashed, the whole room erupted, and as Lizzy had predicated - it was a bidding war. Although Darcy wasn't pleased with the predicament, he couldn't help but be amused at the music selection. The lyrics mirrored his frustrated feelings, and though he promised Elizabeth to take it slow, he was ready and willing whenever she was.

A little less conversation, a little more action please
All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me
A little more bite and a little less bark
A little less fight and a little more spark
Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me
Satisfy me baby

Robin was having a blast, dancing to the music, pointing out new bidders as the tally increased, and thoroughly enjoying the vision of the yummy Mr. Darcy on her catwalk. It inspired her to push the man's patience, just for fun. When Darcy returned from his first turn, she walked over to him and announced to the crowd, "What do you say, should he lose the jacket?"

Screams from the crowd showed they concurred; this was becoming more like a teen idol concert than an auction. These women were in a demanding mood as several tables had been drinking for hours, not to mention the fact they probably wouldn't be happy until he stripped down to his skivvies.

Darcy shot Robin a look of disdain. To this, she merely fanned herself and quipped to the crowd, "Oh, I've just caught a look of the brrrroooding Mr. Darcy gaze. I wish I could make a bid on him myself."

He violently tossed her the jacket, not enjoying her sense of humour whatsoever, and turned back to the crowd.

Lizzy was watching this whole show with great delight. She was really enjoying Robin's commentary. She hadn't had the chance to bid yet; other ladies had been going like gangbusters. Ultimately as she watched Darcy's face and his tense body, she couldn't help but feel sorry for him knowing his disposition, but not totally sympathetic. This must be killing him... but he brought it on himself.

Indeed as the price got higher, deals were struck around tables. Some ladies asked their friends for loans, a table or two pooled their resources and decided that if one bid highest, they'd draw for a winner. As Darcy walked down the stage again, the bidding was up to $3000, $800 more than any other man that night.

"Now, Mr. D," Robin shouted out again, "I suggest you shake that booty of yours, show these women what a steal you are at three grand."

At this, he rolled his eyes and raked his fingers through his hair. While he fumed on the inside, the audience interpreted his actions as his playing the part of a temperamental male model. He was living up to all their expectations, but his price tag began to be unreachable for most. He was now up to $4000.

Darcy had noticed that although Lizzy had kept her eye on him, she had yet to make a bid. He walked to the side of the runway that faced her table and stared at her. She seemed to be lost in the rhythm of the music and her amusement in Darcy's situation. He stayed put in front of her and with pursed lips, gave her a stern look. She finally realized he was trying to remind her - in an intimidating sort of way - that she was expected to bid.

Come on baby I'm tired of talking Grab your coat and let's start walking
Come on, come on
Come on, come on
Come on, come on
Don't procrastinate, don't articulate
Girl it's getting late, gettin' upset waitin' around
A little less conversation, a little more action, please.
Not one to be daunted, she fingered her auction paddle and looked at him mockingly as if to ask, Is this what you want me to do?

He continued to bore a hole into her but she wasn't in any hurry to bid. Suddenly, she reached up to her neck and tapped it a few times, proceeded to point to his, and then held her hands out. In order for her to lift his paddle, she wanted him to remove his tie and give it to her.

He was incredulous to her demands. How dare she take advantage of this situation?

But as he asked himself that question, Lizzy wasn't budging in their secret battle of wills. Knowing he was at her mercy, he loosened his tie and flung it at her in frustration. He reflexively undid the first two buttons of his shirt as well. The crowd of women cheered wildly at the removal of another article of clothing. Lizzy put the tie around her neck, stomped her feet on the floor with glee, and raised her hand to bid. Her smile was one of satisfied victory, and as perturbed as Darcy was by her actions, he couldn't help but shake his head and smile a little at her chutzpah.

"I like Elizabeth's style," Robin called as she watched the whole event transpire. "What else can you get him to remove?"

Darcy shook his head; he would not strip down any further. Robin just laughed heartily and continued to sell his features... not that he really needed any help. "Look at those curly locks ladies! Doesn't he look like your favourite romance hero? Can't you visualize him shirtless on the cover of your favourite steamy novel?"

Darcy looked to Lizzy to see if she had continued bidding. He wasn't happy with what he saw. She was laughing and whispering something to Charlotte, hardly paying attention to the last three bids. When she finally looked back to him on-stage, his eyes widened in a silent question. He saw her hand come to her mouth in surprise. She then mouthed sorry and stuck her hand up in a bid for $5000. Charlotte did a double- take at Lizzy's bid. She thought she was joking the first time, the bidding was fast and furious and there was no way she would have been the last bid, but reaching $5000 was a new plateau, people would start to bow out. Is she insane? She doesn't need to pay for a date with him! She hauled Lizzy's shoulder back. Darcy watched as Charlotte seemed to begin a lecture in Lizzy's ear, taking her away from the auction action. Please, Elizabeth, please pay attention, he started chanting in his mind, wishing she were telepathic.

When Charlotte had grabbed her to tell her to save her pennies, Lizzy motioned with her hand for her friend to stop. She then lifted his wallet out of her lap, smiled and stated, "He's paying."

Another woman in the room had also noticed Lizzy's bids, and had tried to keep up with the crowd, but reality had finally started to hit Caroline. Charles hadn't been kidding when he told her he wouldn't help her anymore. She'd tried to phone him several times and he had dismissed her as quickly as she had dismissed her suppliers the week before. She was starting to run low on funds and even though she'd give her eyeteeth to have this date with Darcy, she had to make the adult decision that she couldn't afford it if she wanted enough money to open her business. She dropped her paddle despondently and had to settle with watching the proceedings as they unfolded.

When Lizzy turned around, Darcy was looking at her again, this time with a bit of desperation in his eyes. Uh-oh, I think I've been neglecting my duties.

His gaze was not lost on Robin. Even though there was no doubt to whom he was looking, she couldn't resist saying, "Look at those forlorn eyes ladies. He's just so... so... earnest! Makes you want to wrap him up and take him home, doesn't it?"

To this question Lizzy whole-heartedly agreed and remembered to shoot her hand up again. $5600. Suddenly, she realized the amount she'd just bid, and although he had given her carte blanche, her sensibilities made her aware that the only things she'd ever bought that were so expensive were her car and her education. Now, she was bidding that much on a single date with a man. She hesitated in raising her hand again until she saw the urging eyes of Darcy upon her. He doesn't let up! she thought as she bid $6100. Darcy was getting tired of this. Never in his life had he felt so humiliated. He knew Richard, or even Charles, would have felt comfortable in this situation and probably would have showed off, but they had exhibitionist tendencies as far as he was concerned. He did not. He just wanted to take Elizabeth in his arms and leave. He didn't need to make love to her tonight (he knew there was a slim to nil chance of that anyway), he just wanted to spend time with her. They just hadn't had much time to themselves and the realization was beginning to wear on him. He wanted to be alone with her.

He was also tired of the lippy comments from the M.C. He couldn't imagine how the other men willingly agreed to put up with her. He was jolted back to reality by another smart-assed remark from the woman. "He's getting really pricey now. I guess this separates the girls from the women. Just to add incentive, I thought I'd let you know he turned 31 less than two months ago. At that age, and with that kind of money, he must be in want of a wife. Now's your chance." Lizzy nearly keeled over laughing at this last remark. Whoa, this woman is treading on dangerous ground.

Darcy swung around to look Robin in the eye, but she was grinning from ear to ear, and again, to the crowd, Darcy looked like he had a flare for the dramatic, and they hooted in approval.

The reality was a handful of women were left bidding and as Lizzy had also predicted, the thrice-divorced Ms. Charron was one of them... but no one had the means to which Lizzy was privy. Slowly... tentatively the price reached $6900. Lizzy looked at Darcy with open, curious eyes as of to ask him, What now?

He subtly motioned with his hands to go higher. Lizzy was shaking. Although her mind knew it wasn't her money, her body couldn't seem to grasp that fact. She saw him signaling her, but her arm couldn't seem to lift itself. His eyes were pleading to her and she suddenly heard Robin yell, "$6900 going once..."

Upon seeing the wretched, pitiful countenance of Darcy, her motor skills suddenly kicked in. "$10,000!" she cried, and the crowd let out whistles and yelps of astonishment... and then silence. As appealing as the possibility of a date with Darcy was, no one was willing to surpass that mark.

"Do I hear $10,500? $10, 250? $10,100?" Robin urged, not wanting this moment to end. Indeed, she was a bit miffed with Lizzy for jumping so high, so fast. If the number had crept up slowly, some women may have gotten carried away in the moment and kept bidding. She knew the highlight of the night was about to end. Pity the poor man who was up next.

"$10,000 going once, $10,000 going twice," Robin said slowly. "Sold to #43, Elizabeth Bennet."

There were few things that had ever given Darcy more pleasure than hearing those words from that woman. What Robin then added, reminded him that his night wasn't all that perfect, "One man is obviously not enough for the feisty Ms. Bennet."

He rushed up to her and grabbed his jacket in a hurry to leave, at which point she stopped him by saying, "It's been a pleasure, Mr. Darcy. Can we expect to see you back next year?"

"Not on your life," he replied honestly. However, as he turned to walk away, Robin knew this would be her one and only opportunity... she did exactly what every other woman in that room would do under her circumstances. She pinched his butt.

Darcy paused for a moment in silent fury, but his desire to be off the stage won over his desire to threaten the woman with sexual assault charges. Besides, he could tell by the look on her face that Lizzy had witnessed what had happened, and she was highly amused.

He hopped off that stage quicker than a pursued gazelle, happy to near an Elizabeth who seemed quite jovial. However, as light-hearted as her mood appeared, he was well aware she wasn't impressed with his earlier remarks. He tentatively leaned over and placed a soft kiss on her cheek while whispering, "Thank you Elizabeth - you saved me. Like I said before, I owe you one."

The crowd screamed in approval at Darcy's action - now that the lady was no longer their competition, there was a sisterly satisfaction in whatever she attained with the illustrious Mr. Darcy. Darcy stood back to see her reaction.

"You bet you owe me... in more ways than one," she warned with an arch of her eyebrow, but she couldn't keep the amusement off her face. As annoyed as she was by his earlier bossiness, she couldn't help but feel he'd been adequately punished.

Robin, sensing there was more to this auction bid than met the eye, piped up, "The woman pays 10,000 smackaroos for you and all she gets is a peck on the cheek? Stingy, stingy."

She continued her chastisement with several tsk, tsks. She didn't realize how well this played into Darcy's hands, and with that comment, she redeemed herself in his estimation.

"Shall I give them what they want?" he asked Lizzy leadingly.

"That's up to you. I know you're a private person. You're taking your life into your own hands," Lizzy advised.

He knew there could be several meanings behind that statement - her eyes were fiery, but he could swear he sensed some daring in them. He was generally a private person, but having spent time with Lizzy, he had realized there were advantages to be had by being shameless in public.

Wrapping one arm around her waist and the other at her back, he pulled her to him, dipped her dramatically low, and covered her mouth with a spine-tingling, drop-dead, coma-awakening kiss. So powerful, so full of desire, Lizzy closed her eyes and momentarily forgot where she was.

All around her, there were loud cheers and flashes going off, there were whistles and feet stomping in appreciation, but all that registered with Lizzy was Darcy's sensual lips, his darting tongue, his heavy breath and his familiar, heavenly, woodsy scent.

He wasn't faring much better, but managed to keep aware of his surroundings. With little effort, Lizzy was able to affect his body physically... and that just wouldn't do in front of a room of cheering women. He'd never live it down.

When he finally lifted her back up, she was so dazed he had to hold her shoulders steady. This reaction produced a mega-watt smile from Darcy, quite pleased in having knocked her out senseless. He couldn't care less if the world saw photos of them tomorrow; it was worth every moment.

Robin decided to bring attention back to the event at hand. "See ladies. Perhaps you should all be willing to spend so much... and remember, we still have more dashing men ready and waiting. Let's give a big cheer for our next..."

Neither Darcy nor Lizzy heard a word, they were far too lost in each other. While many ladies were still sneaking a peek at the love-struck couple (including a certain bitter clothing designer), the spotlight was now focused on a member of the Ottawa Senators hockey team... perhaps not as compelling a choice as Darcy, but certainly more affordable.

They were momentarily interrupted by an auction worker requiring Lizzy's method of payment. Darcy quickly retrieved his Platinum Amex. The star-struck young woman couldn't help but smile at such a generous offer.

Once the particulars were finished, Lizzy had regained her composure as well as a bit of her anger - granted, it was mollified - but they still needed to talk.

"Shall we head out?" Darcy asked, offering his arm.

"Good idea," Lizzy said ambivalently and turned to wave goodbye to the table of friends. Once she turned back to her suitor, they all just rolled their eyes, highly amused by the whole episode and wondering what those two were up to next.

* A Little Less Conversation - Elvis Presley/JXL - Copyright 2002 BMG, RCA.

Chapter X

Part II

As they walked out of the Congress Centre, Lizzy gave Darcy a sideways glance and remarked, "You know, I really should be angrier with you. would you care to elaborate more on this George Wickham character?"

"Isn't it enough for me to tell you he's not worth your bother and can't be trusted?" Darcy asked, disappointed by her lack of faith in his judgment.

"Forgive me, Darcy, but there was a time when you believed me to be a very untrustworthy sort of person. So I know you can be wrong when it comes to judging people."

"I suppose you have a point," Darcy mumbled grudgingly. To this, Lizzy stopped to stand before him and poked his chest playfully.

"Oh, oh, can I quote you?" she asked spiritedly, a huge grin spread across her face. She was still high from the excitement of the auction.

Darcy grabbed her hands preventing them from any more prodding.

"You don't need to rub it in," he said in a grumbly voice.

"Maybe I want to," she answered provocatively, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck, pressing against him. She hadn't intended to be flirtatious, indeed she intended to be harsh on him after such testosterone-filled behaviour, however, his adorable voice, combined with the touch of his hands, his close presence, and the memory of his earlier kiss, melted any defences she had.

Her teasing greatly amused, relieved and aroused him, but before he could kiss her again, she leaned into his chest, resting firmly against him, delighted to be in his warm embrace. She remained in this position much longer than he expected, and though it was quite endearing, he finally had to ask, "Are we going to stay here all night?"

"Hmmm?" Lizzy said, leaning back to look at him and then politely stifling a yawn. "No, I'm just a little sleepy and you felt so nice."

She proceeded to absently rub both her eyes with her fists, an action reminiscent of a three-year old who had stayed up past her bedtime.

As difficult as it was for Darcy to admit, she was exhausted, and no wonder. He realized her offer of meeting him as soon as she was free from any constraints had been a great compliment, but he was sure the best place for her right now was in bed and - unfortunately for him - sleeping.

"Why don't I take you home? Maybe we can meet tomorrow."

"No, no. I got you to meet me here and I think we need to talk seriously about tonight, and a bit about our next steps together." She paused for a moment and then brightened as she said, "I have an idea. Why don't you come to my place and we can have something there."

Alone at her place? Darcy was liking this plan better and better! He nodded his agreement.

He brought her to his car and she promptly noticed him pass some money to the bellman. Still wearing his tie, she swung it about as she remarked, "Nice parking spot, though I guess it cost you even more than expected."

He gave her a wry smile and opened her door. "As long as you're here with me, it was all worthwhile."

"Oh, pul-lease! Do you use that line on all the girls who buy you?" Lizzy asked, not willing to be charmed by cheesy lines, no matter how cute he was when he said them.

"Just the ones who spend ten grand," he answered as he shut her door, both of them knowing full well the auction experience was a one-time only affair for him.

As they drove away, Lizzy got down to the business at hand. She wasn't going to let him off the hook that easily. "So, getting back to our discussion, I want to make myself perfectly clear - don't ever talk to me that way again, regardless of your opinion of the situation. I think you should know by now, I don't respond to commands," she said sternly. She didn't want to be a spoilsport but before they could go any further, she needed to feel he respected her.

"I realize I reacted harshly and I'm well aware no one tells you what to do. I can't believe I even tried. However, George Wickham has a way of ridding me of all logical thought."

"But you don't care to share why, I suppose," Lizzy surmised.

"Just try to make sure your only contact with him is this one evening. He might seem nice enough but, well, he's only out for number one," Darcy tried to explain.

"Don't worry. I wasn't heartily impressed on our first meeting."

"You met him?!"

"I spoke to him before the auction," Lizzy explained calmly, noticing Darcy's increased speed as his temper flared.

"Did he come on to you?"

"Darcy!" she practically whined at his questioning. He's so pushy!

"Well, did he?" he insisted.

"Not quite." She didn't really want to discuss this with him.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, we joked around a little, but as soon as he started to overdo it I made him quite aware it was inappropriate."

Darcy just grunted in frustration with this turn of events. He didn't want that man within three miles of anyone he cared about, articularly Elizabeth, even if she knew how to care of herself.

"You know you really need to check your jealousy," Lizzy advised with a pointed stare and pursed lips, finally putting into words what she thought was one of his biggest flaws.

"What do you mean?" he asked incredulously.

"Oh, Darcy, don't you realize how possessive you are?"

"I'm just protective. I told you how I feel about Wickham."

"Well, what about Richard?"

"What about Richard?" Darcy asked accusingly, gripping the wheel tightly. I thought he and Charlotte were together.

"The night of Charles's party, when you thought I came with him... you were mighty petulant if I remember correctly."

"I wasn't in my right mind that night, Elizabeth, I wasn't myself."

"Oh, I think you were, very much so, just as you were earlier tonight, and I'll warn you right now, I work with an awful lot of men... and I'm a friendly person. I don't apologize for that. I may hug them and even kiss them from time to time, particularly if I know them well. If we're to continue to see each other, you're going to have to get used to it," Lizzy told him.

"Noted," Darcy said, not entirely comfortable with her expectations but not daring to admit it, as he realized it would only prove her point. He'd try to behave rather than risk losing the trust he was just beginning to gain.

"Good," Lizzy said, leaning into the luxurious confines of his Mercedes' leather seat. She closed her eyes and relaxed. She felt she had made her point and she was ready to enjoy a pleasant end to her evening.

She only opened her eyes again when he tapped her on the shoulder. "We're here."

She was suddenly confused. "Wait - how did you know where I lived?"

"I followed you once to make sure you got home safe and sound... you were... quite upset at the time," he answered sheepishly just before leaving the car. He opened her door just as she remembered he'd followed her the night of his birthday. The night I couldn't decide if I wanted to screw him or screw him over.

As she opened the door to her townhouse, he couldn't resist touching her. That kiss had rekindled his need for a physical connection with her more than ever, and although he was willing to take it as slow as she wanted, he couldn't imagine her refusing a neck rub for a few moments. His thumbs gently stroked the soft nape of her neck and hoped for a positive response.

She very much did enjoy his touch and momentarily bent her head down in relief. She let out a euphoric, "Mmmmmmmmmm. You don't know how good that feels."

He had a pretty good idea as the vocalization of her enjoyment damn near collapsed his resolve to behave. He had no clue how he was going to last at her pace when everything she did made him want to take things ten times as fast. What he didn't do physically, he was quite willing to intimate. "I'm willing to provide full body massage services."

She giggled at this comment, but it was the impetus for her coming back to earth and creating distance. She opened the door and walked inside.

As she turned on the lights, dropped her keys, and hung up their coats, Darcy took a moment to subtly peruse her home. It was a typical cookie-cutter townhouse, but he was amazed at what feminine touches could do to an otherwise sanitized environment. He wouldn't say the results were headed for Better Homes and Gardens Magazine - he was right in guessing that both Jane and Elizabeth's schedules didn't allow them to devote hours and hours to their décor - but it was homey and welcoming without being overdone.

"Have a seat in the living room and make yourself at home. What would you like to drink?" Lizzy asked.

"Whatever you're having is fine," he said, not wanting her to go to any trouble.

"Suit yourself," she replied, venturing into the kitchen. Darcy followed, wanting to enjoy every moment possible with her.

She turned to see him staring at her. "What are you doing? Why don't you go and get comfy?"

"I'm quite comfy here," he said with a soft smile as he leaned against her kitchen table.

Oh, he's in his charming mood again, she thought. "Well, why don't you open the wine then. The glasses are there," she said pointing to the top shelf. "And if you don't mind, I'm going to change out of this suit. I've had enough of my dressy clothes for a lifetime!"

"Am I going to get my tie back?" he asked, looking at one of his favourites hanging loosely around her neck.

"Not on your life! This is a souvenir from the night I spent an enormous amount of someone else's money just for my pleasure. Excuse me, will you?"

He smiled after her as she rushed up to her room to change.

When she returned, he had finally made himself cozy on her cushiony sofa, patiently waiting for her. The location of her wine glass, directly next to his, indicated where he expected her to sit, and - big surprise - it was very close to him.

When Lizzy changed into "something a little more comfortable", it was exactly that. She wore a pale blue jersey knit tracksuit, a zip up shirt with a hood, and straight-legged pants with a touch of lycra that made them far more appealing to Darcy than any run-of-the-mill sweat suit. Her adorable ballet style slippers finished the ensemble. She had an extremely cuddlable quality to her and as she sat next to him, he hoped she would do just that.

But no such luck. In fact, she sat facing him with her legs crossed under her, looking ready to fire at him with a zillion questions. She obviously didn't have cuddling in mind.

"You know, I was thinking," she began with a burst of energy, but paused to take a sip of her wine. "I know very little about you. You've now been to my townhouse, my family home and you've met most of my family... you know a bit about my work, and Jane, dear sister that she is, saw fit to inform you about my love life. The only person who has told me about yours is Caroline... and that's a very dubious source of information."

"Yes, I agree," Darcy answered, amused by the sparkle in her eyes when she was inquisitive.

"So, my dear Sir, why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself?"

"What would you like to know?" he asked genuinely. Lizzy paused before she answered, taking a deep breath. She wanted to be bold; she wanted to know as much as possible and she wanted him to actually answer. She wasn't sure he would with the questions she had running through her mind.

"To tell you the truth, I want to know about your love life, but you're probably not willing to be forthcoming there," she said with a sheepish smirk.

"Perhaps if you asked specific questions, I'd be willing to answer some," he said thoughtfully.

She bit her lower lip, wondering where to start. There were a multitude of possibilities, some more blatant than others, but at the core of the matter was her belief in their sexual inequality. Finally, she thought she'd start bluntly. "Have you ever been in love?"

Darcy stared at her for a moment, wondering what she wanted him to say to that. He was aware that he was in the middle of falling in love, but he wasn't ready to make that profession and somehow, he highly doubted she wanted him to tell her that yet.

"Not in any of my past relationships, no," he finally answered, carefully. "Have you?"

This actually relieved Lizzy a great deal. It hadn't even occurred to her that he would have thought she was fishing for an admission. She just wanted to know if there was anyone for whom Darcy still held a torch. She didn't want that kind of competition. Only when she had absorbed his answer did she realize he'd thrown the question back in her lap.

"No, never," she answered honestly, for as attracted as she was to Mr. William Darcy, she wasn't yet in love with him... not that she was willing to admit it to herself yet. Darcy was slightly disappointed by her definite answer.

"Can I ask some more?" she asked timidly.

He silently chuckled at her conflicting behaviour - shy on the one hand, but still managing to ask extremely personal questions. "Go ahead," he urged.

"Did you have a lot...I mean... have you had many... partners... I mean, sexual partners?" she asked hesitantly, picking an imaginary piece of dust off the sofa, feeling too awkward to look at him. In fact, she felt quite foolish almost immediately after asking. He was a grown man, extremely attractive and wealthy... why wouldn't he have had several lovers in his 31 years?

Darcy was truly touched by her reaction. She wanted to know these things, she needed to know these things for her own peace of mind, but she was well aware that it was a sensitive topic. It was also one that not many people would have had the guts to ask him about so directly and he respected her determination. She never backed down from a difficult situation when it was important to her.

He gently placed his hand under her chin and made her look at him. He noted that whenever she was uncomfortable, she tended to avoid his eyes, but he would not let her.

"What do you define as 'many'?" he asked, curious as to what her answer would be.

"Oh, I don't know," she answered, lowering her eyelids, again uncomfortable with the subject she'd introduced. "I guess... well you're 31...10 to 15 wouldn't be unreasonable, I suppose."

Oh, this might not be pretty, he thought, taking a deep breath and letting it out before he replied.

"I'll be honest with you. For the past eleven or twelve years, I would fit your definition of reasonable and I'd be in the lower part of that spectrum."

"But before that?" Lizzy asked automatically. She wanted to kick herself; he had just given her his history for the past dozen years - his entire adult life - what did any previous sexual activity matter?

"Elizabeth, I was a teenager. I had raging hormones, and there were a lot of women...a lot of women much older than I, who hit on me. You could say I should have known they weren't really interested in me, the person, but how do you explain that to a 16 or even 18-year old boy. I was getting action, and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I was careful, I used protection - mostly because my father had warned me that women would love me to be the father of their child - but I wasn't extremely selective, until I turned about 19 or 20. My mom had died when I was 19 and I started to grow up. That's when I slowed down and when I realized women wanted more from me than sex. After that, I think I was more reasonable."

"Oh," was all Lizzy could muster. He was a little worried with the dazed look on her face, but he knew that was a lot for someone to absorb. He had never talked about his love life to anyone before and he hoped his opening up to her didn't push her away.

When she finally collected her thoughts, it did occur to her that he was saying a lot more than he needed, that he was sharing intimate information with her and she was quite certain he had never done so before with anyone else - he wasn't that type of man. She was touched by his trust in her. His honesty went a long way in making her feel she could trust his intentions with her.

"You know, I can understand what it must have been like for you. You probably lived every teenaged boy's dream. I can't blame you. I'm only surprised you stopped living that way as early as you did."

"Do you really feel that way?" he asked.

"Well, I don't think I would have acted the same in that situation, but I'm different... and a girl. Oh, I know there are girls who are just as promiscu-," Lizzy stopped before making him sound easy, "I mean sexually active... there are even some in my family, I suspect. But I wasn't like that. I don't know why, I think I'm as interested in sex as the next person, but I wasn't willing to do it with just anybody. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to make it seem like I was all that virtuous, really."

"It's okay, I understand. I was just a little wild in my youth," Darcy admitted with a slight smile.

Lizzy grabbed her wine and took a big gulp. She decided she'd had enough confessions for the evening and wanted to talk about less treacherous topics.

"Well, I won't push you for any more personal and private information tonight. I promise."

"I don't mind, Elizabeth. I just want you to trust me and if telling all my secrets helps, then I'll do it."

"Then what about George?" she pushed, not realizing she'd just broken her promise.

"That's not my secret to tell," he replied frankly.

"Oh. Well that makes a bit more sense," Lizzy said. She knew that was as close as she would get to an answer, but it certainly didn't clear anything up for her.

With the reminder of George, Darcy leaned his head back onto the sofa, his thoughts wandering back to earlier in the evening and his horrendous moment in the spotlight.

"Do you know, how much I hated being up there tonight?" he asked her out of the blue. She was about to comfort him, tell him that he did an admirable job and that the women loved him - in fact she reached out and lightly touched his arm preparing to say all those words... but then she concluded this was another opportunity to make him realize what his rash actions produced.

"You know, Darcy, if you had just been patient and less possessive, you would have been spared that whole experience," Lizzy explained.

"What do you mean?"

"If you had stayed in your car, I would have paid attention to the bidding for George. I would have stopped at $400 and that would have been the end of that. You wouldn't have been spotted by the M.C.; there would have been no need for you to go on-stage and no need for you to spend $10,000... I can't believe I bid that much for you!"

"What, you mean I'm not worth that much?" he remarked on her last comment only.

"Of course you are dear, but there was no need to prove it," she said shaking her head and chuckling at the fact he was ignoring her whole explanation of why he was at fault.

"Okay, okay, I'll try to be more patient...less pushy, is that what you want?" he asked in a deep voice, leaning his face closer to hers so that their noses touched, thereby negating his assurances.

Lizzy thought about head-butting him for a moment, but figured she'd end up being the injured party in such a collision - particularly because he was so hardheaded! So instead, she gave him a split-second peck on the lips and then quickly backed away, lying down on the sofa with her arms behind her head. "Yes," she answered succinctly.

She'd succeeded in surprising him long enough to get away from any kind of intimate moment. They were having the kind of rational conversation she wanted, and she didn't need their desires getting in the way. She was happy with the way things were progressing.

With a self-satisfied look, she asked, "What else should we talk about?"

"How about your trip?" Darcy suggested, realizing what she was doing. He wasn't about to completely give up being close to her though, and s she began to talk, he slipped off her slippers and started rubbing her feet.

"What are you doing?"

"What does it feel like?"

"I hope they don't smell! I'd be terribly embarrassed," she said, scrunching her nose.

Darcy brought one foot up to his nose and took a big whiff. "They smell lovely."

She threw a cushion at him, giggling in delight at his playfulness. "If you want to rub my feet, who am I to protest?"

"That's the spirit," he said, kissing one of her painted toes, but it quickly led to a little nibble.

"Darcy!" she said, rolling her eyes and half-heartedly swatting her hand at him.

"Okay, okay... just rubbing."

After tiring of hearing her own voice, Lizzy asked Darcy about his trip and his travels in general. He relayed stories about his treks around the globe as thoroughly as she had, but as time slipped by, her eyelids got droopier. In fact, she fell asleep to the comfort of his soothing voice and magical hands.

He sat and watched her, enjoying how peaceful she looked as she slept, a slight smile upon her lips, her cheeks rosy from what he assumed was the wine, her hair flowing down over her shoulders. She was breathing deeply and every once in a while she let out a darling sigh. He took the opportunity to examine her every feature from her perky little nose, to the painted toes he held in his hands. He could honestly say that as he looked at her, he didn't have his regular sexual urges... he had no need to ravage her body; he was just content to be with her in the homey atmosphere of her townhouse, realizing she was comfortable enough with him to fall asleep alone in his presence.

Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined her thoughts were completely the opposite. As Lizzy drifted off into dream world, her mind wandered, lost in the feeling of his masculine hands rubbing the sensitive spots of her feet. She began to fantasize that those hands drifted upward to her legs, thoroughly massaging them before reaching her torso. As her thoughts edged between the conscious and unconscious, she imagined him unzipping her top, revealing her bare breasts. Upon her arching her back, he made his way to her breasts, softly cupping and stroking them at first, but he was soon kneading them and tweaking her nipples at her insistence. As she slipped further into sleep, she felt him trace her lips with his fingers, dipping one into her mouth allowing her to suck it, and she relished the saltiness of his skin while hinting at other possibilities. He removed his finger and dragged it down her neck and between her breasts until it reached the drawstring of her pants. She then sighed as he moved positions to kiss her fervently while his hand reached down to her sex, feeling her eagerness to have him there. Lizzy was in heaven as he stroked and rubbed her, slowly inching his fingers closer to her core, while his mouth then moved to suck fiercely on one nipple, then the other - his tongue and mouth sending shockwaves through her nervous system. It felt so right and she only wanted more of him... not only his hands, but all of him. He was bringing her to the brink and she was ready to cry out.

"Lizzy, Lizzy, wake up." It wasn't Darcy's voice - it was unmistakably feminine. What's going on? she wondered, her brow furrowing as she struggled to stay asleep. She didn't want her dream to end before its fruition.

"Elizabeth, wake up, you don't want to sleep on the sofa tonight, do you?" This time it was definitely Darcy's voice and a smile drifted onto her face. He is here, I didn't just imagine him... but who's the woman?

Finally thoughts of a third party startled Lizzy enough to open her eyes. She saw the curious face of Jane hovering over her, and then noticed Darcy looking at her expectantly as well from the other end of the sofa. She quickly crossed her arms over her chest and was relieved to feel her top was fully zipped. They both looked at her quizzically.

"What happened?" Lizzy finally managed to say.

"You drifted off to sleep and I didn't have the heart to wake you right away, then Jane arrived home," Darcy explained.

"Oh, okay," Lizzy answered somewhat fuzzily but soon lifted her hands to her cheeks, her face blazing in embarrassment over her dream, now that she was faced with an innocent-looking Darcy and a sister with impeccable timing.

"Well, I better be off. It's getting late and you obviously need some sleep," Darcy said rising from the sofa. Suddenly, Lizzy had no desire for him to leave; she wanted some kind of physical contact with him after such a heady experience.

"Wait!" she cried as she lifted herself off the sofa. "Let me see you out."

Jane took that as her cue to leave them alone and after she said her goodnights, she headed up to her room. Lizzy quickly took Darcy's hand and walked him to the door.

She stopped touching him long enough to let him put on his shoes, suit jacket and coat, but once that was accomplished she took both of his hands. "Thank you for coming tonight, I had a wonderful time," she said with dreamy eyes. She hadn't quite differentiated their conscious evening from her very sensual dream. He was pleasantly surprised by her sudden, gentle intimacy. "I did too," he said, looking at her adorably sleepy eyes and face. "Elizabeth, before I go... would you consider having dinner with me instead of breakfast on Saturday. I'd like to take you out for an evening on the town rather than the $3.99 breakfast special at Rockin' Johnnie's Diner." "You've been to Rockin' Johnnie's?" Lizzy asked with an amazed smile. That comment seemed to wake her up. "Georgie likes breakfast food and the '50s diner atmosphere," Darcy explained to Lizzy's giggles. "Okay. I think I can manage an evening out with you," Lizzy agreed with a mischievously upturned mouth. "I'll call you with details on Friday evening," he said. "I'm out Friday evening," Lizzy reminded him... as if he needed it. "I'll call you at 11:30 or so." "Keeping tabs on me are you?" She asked moving closer to him, staring up at his face with a devilish glint in her eye, showing she didn't mind the attention in the least.

"I just want to make sure you make it home okay," he said softly, lowering his face, moving closer to hers.

"Always watching out for my safety," she whispered huskily, as she raised her chin and stood on her tiptoes. "It's my first concern," he managed to reply before reaching her lips. He didn't want to rush her, so he resolved for it to be a small, tender kiss. He then gingerly moved back far enough to gage her reaction. Her expression said she wanted more and once again he brushed her lips softly. When he moved away once more, her eyes were still closed and her lips were slightly puckered. That sealed his fate. When he lowered his lips upon hers this time, he didn't move back, but intensified the pressure and cautiously slipped his tongue over her upper lip and then into her mouth. When she sucked on it, he practically imploded and took her firmly in his arms, wanting to feel every curve of her, wanting to taste the sweetness she was willing to give, knowing it was all he had to live on for the next two days. She wrapped her arms around his neck as her tongue swirled in his mouth, savouring the warmth of his lips and breath, luxuriating in his strong, solid body encircling hers. Whereas his earlier kiss had taken her by surprise, she willed this one to happen, encouraging him to deepen it and when they finally parted, she realized her brazenness - not that she felt guilty, just that she was the one responsible for this rush to passion.

After a moment to catch her breath, she looked up to his dark eyes, blazing with a fire she knew was burning through his body. "I thought I said something about taking it slow," she managed to whisper between heavy breaths.

"Oh, yes... of course. Well... I'm perfectly willing to repeat that kiss more slowly if you like," he answered with a slow, wicked grin. She couldn't help but smile right back at him.

"I think we better leave it at that." she said half-heartedly, opening the door to let him out.

He turned to her before leaving remembering a conversation they once had. "You know, a woman once wished me an awful time when I was going to a certain party without her one night. She also hoped my date was a bore. I wish you the same for Friday night."

"Your gentlemanly behaviour continues to impress me, Darcy," Lizzy responded dryly.

"I knew it would," he said with a wink before departing, and as he walked towards the car, he resisted the urge to skip, no matter how ecstatic he felt inside.

Continue reading A&R here


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