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Action & Reaction

Chapter XI

"It would seem things are progressing rather well with Lizzy," Richard said when Darcy picked up his phone at work the next morning.

"So it would seem," Darcy agreed, knowing precisely what Richard was talking about. Both the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun had his and Lizzy's photos on their covers, with the Sun's subtle full-page tabloid cover shouting to the world, "A Kiss Worth 10K". For the first time in his life, he didn't care. In fact, he was keeping those photos for posterity's sake, as well as for the delightful memories he relived while looking at them.

"I was a little worried the night of the Queen's gala. Lizzy didn't seem quite so responsive," Richard hinted, wanting to know more details.

"Well, we resolved our issues," Darcy replied, offering no further information.

"And now you're showing off to the press? This is very unlike you, Darce. What's going on? A bachelor auction? I'd never have believed it in a million years," Richard prodded, disbelief evident in his voice.

"It was a bit of a mix-up. I'd rather not give details, but my presence had a lot to do with the other bachelor Elizabeth purchased," Darcy explained.

"What do you mean?"

"Read down into the article a bit deeper, Richard... the one in the Sun," Darcy advised.

For a few moments, there was a slight murmuring on the other end of the line and then suddenly Richard exclaimed, "Bloody hell... Wickham."

"Yes, and she's seeing him tomorrow night."

"Why didn't you stop her?" Richard asked, his frustration threatening to bubble over.

"I tried. God knows I tried, but there's only so much I can tell her ... and well ... Elizabeth doesn't take too kindly to instructions."

"Did you try to tell her what to do?" Richard asked, rolling his eyes at the idea.

"Unfortunately, yes," Darcy replied, abruptly.

"I can see that did a fat lot of good," Richard quipped.

"I tried to explain to her that he's not to be trusted. I think she believed me by the end of the evening, but I have no right to reveal things to her about Georgiana," Darcy explained.

"You didn't need to say it was her," Richard countered.

"Who else could it be for me to know that kind of information, Richard? No matter. Elizabeth will be seeing him tomorrow night and it's time I trust her enough to know she'll believe what I've said. She's talked to him already and wasn't particularly impressed. I also think she's quite capable of figuring out what type of man George is on her own," Darcy answered, putting his faith in Elizabeth as he knew that's what she wanted.

"That sounds very mature of you, Darce. I think Lizzy has taught you a thing or two about trust," Richard said, impressed with the calm reaction his cousin was showing.

"I'm trying, Richard, I'm really trying," Darcy answered, knowing that deep down, he'd give anything to sabotage her meeting with that wretched man.

~ * ~

Caroline Bingley poured her morning cup of java with a determined pride. For the first time since she'd bought the contraption six months ago, she had managed to make coffee with her espresso machine. She hadn't bothered to try it until this week because she always ended up going down the street to Starbuck's instead. It was just so much easier that way. Now that she had to act with some fiscal responsibility, she realized she needed to cut corners, and using her $800 coffeemaker would be a first step.

After placing her cup on the table next to her grapefruit, she went to pick up the morning paper at her door. As she unrolled the paper at her table, she casually took a sip of coffee. The combination of the photograph and the horrid coffee produced some projectile spitting. Luckily for her white carpet, it was absorbed by poor Darcy and Lizzy. Whatever delight she felt in her homemaking abilities had vanished, as the photo and the coffee left a bad taste in her mouth. The memories of the previous evening stared her in the face and as blind as she had always been with regard to Darcy, her failure began to sink in.

Darcy knew perfectly well he was on display and he had pointedly kissed that woman in a way he'd never kissed Caroline. He had to have known it would be in the papers but once he was off the stage, he looked like he was enjoying himself in Lizzy's presence. Why? Why does he prefer some cheap flirt to me? And how the hell could she afford $10,000? she pondered, not for the first time.

As she tried to figure out what could possibly attract him to the woman, other than her vulgar figure, she began to see that perhaps it was her independence. She didn't know how that woman, with some middle-class civil servant job, could afford to pay for Darcy, but perhaps because she was so financially capable, Darcy was impressed. She remembered when she had returned from Paris, Darcy had been intrigued by her determination to open a successful design store. He seemed genuinely delighted for her.

Perhaps if she could prove to Darcy, as well as her brother, that she was responsible, that she could make a success of her business, then they would see she was really a worthwhile catch ... that she deserved the attention of a man like Darcy.

As awful as the coffee was, she drank it, knowing she had to buckle down her lifestyle and take her business endeavour more seriously. She would succeed and she would show them all ... and if she played her cards right, she was certain Darcy would realize the folly of his ways and come running back to her open arms.

~ * ~

Lizzy was finally free to sleep as long as she wanted and she did just that for most of her Thursday. When she finally rose, she showered, ate, put the phone back on the hook and paid some bills on-line. As she relaxed in front of the television for a bit of a break, the phone rang.

"Lizzy dear, I've been trying to phone you all day! You are all over the papers! Two dates with such eligible men! You're famous!"

Lizzy rubbed her forehead as she listened to the excited voice of her mother. Her every sentence was an exclamation and Lizzy wasn't prepared for the onslaught. She hadn't collected the paper from the mailbox so she had no clue she was on the front page. She hadn't thought about the repercussions of the event she had attended on a lark.

"Oh, Mom, it's not as dramatic as you think," she said, wondering exactly what the papers would have said about the evening.

"Not so dramatic! Lizzy you spent $10,000 on William Darcy! And another thousand on George Wickham! Where did you get that kind of money?" Mrs. Bennet continued to shout as she conversed with her daughter... truth be told, it was closer to a high-pitched inquisition.

"Mom, just listen for a sec, okay? I did spend my own money for George... and to tell you the truth; that was a mistake on my part. I was distracted and I hadn't realized the price had risen so high. With regard to Darcy, it was a sort of accident he was there and since he knows me, he asked me to bid for him on his behalf. He didn't want to go out with anyone there. In fact, I don't even know if we'll ever use that date," Lizzy answered, hoping her mother hadn't stopped listening halfway through her explanation as she had a tendency to do.

"Well, it certainly looked like he wanted to go out with you from the pictures in the paper," Fanny said pointedly. She had never been impressed with Darcy after he had left her party so suddenly that past summer; however, she wasn't one to let personal grudges get in the way of her daughter snagging one of the top bachelors in the country.

Lizzy knew what she had to do. Unless she wanted daily calls requesting an update on her love life, unless she wanted constant requests from her mother to have Darcy over to the family home, unless she was prepared for her whole family's circle of friends to be informed of her new catch, she needed to lie. It was something she tried not to do, however, if she wanted to proceed with Darcy in an orderly, peaceful manner, there was no other choice.

"Mom... can you keep a secret?" Lizzy asked conspiratorially, rolling her eyes at the silliness of the question directed towards her mother. "What Darcy did... that was all an act. He's always getting hit on by women and he thought if he kissed me in public, they'd link us together... and well, people would stop bothering him for awhile. I mean, his ex-girlfriend was there and she's still after him. He asked permission first... and really, how could I refuse? Would you refuse a kiss from that man?"

Lizzy hoped her mother bought it, but she knew there'd be more questions. She wasn't disappointed.

"No, of course... he is very handsome, but are you sure he's not interested? Perhaps that was just his excuse to kiss you," Fanny reasoned. Her daughter was attractive and rather smart, why wouldn't Darcy like her?

"No, I know. I only wish," Lizzy answered, trying to get her mother to think it wasn't a matter of flirtation on her part to get Darcy interested. "I'm just not in his social echelon so I don't think he even looks at me like that. But luckily I have this other date tomorrow night."

It was always better to make her mother think she had given an effort and that the guy wasn't worth it. She may come to regret that later, but right now, she wanted nothing more than for her mother to believe there was no relationship possibility with Darcy. If she made her think her real interest lay with George, she could enjoy her time with Darcy in peace.

"Oh, yes, that darling-looking George," Fanny gushed, quickly forgetting Darcy as there was another opportunity on the horizon. "You know, I sometimes just watch the sports news for him! I don't even like sports! You will be nice to him, won't you, dear? I'd love to meet him some day."

"Me too!" Lydia piped in, having grabbed another phone wanting to be part of the conversation.

"Remember, it's just a date I bought... it's not like he asked me out or anything. Don't worry, I'll be nice, but don't get your hopes up," Lizzy replied, wanting to get off the phone before she had to endure any more prodding.

"Just promise you'll do your best, Lizzy, that's all I ask," Fanny pleaded. She was beginning to worry about Lizzy's attitude towards men. She hardly ever heard of her being on a date and yet she was in a field that was teeming with eligible, successful, even exotic men. She wanted to make sure her daughter wasn't asexual... or worse.

"I will, Mom, don't worry," Lizzy assured her.

"Where are you going on your date?" Lydia asked, as she was extremely curious about the whereabouts of the hottie sports guy.

"I'm going to the NAC, to a concert."

"What concert?"

"It's a soprano opera singer, Lydia. Her name is Renée Fleming."

"Ewwww. He's actually interested in that boring stuff? Oh, well, as long as you get to be alone with him, it'll be worthwhile," Lydia reasoned and then had a thought. "Hey, you could just skip the concert!"

"No way! That's the main reason I bid on this date in the first place. Do you know how hard it was to get tickets?" Lizzy exclaimed.

"You're weird," Lydia replied honestly. When it came to her sister Lizzy, Lydia couldn't even begin to comprehend how her mind worked, but that didn't mean she couldn't find out more about George. "So, what are you doing after the concert?"

"Nothing as far as I know. He'll just take me home, I guess." Lizzy didn't really want to spend any extra time with the man; she just wanted to see the concert.

"Oh, you must invite him in for coffee!" Fanny piped up, again trying to push her daughter in her own quest to nab a son-in-law.

"Mom! I hardly know him. In fact, he's a complete stranger but for one brief conversation, and you want me to invite him into my home? For all I know he could be an axe murderer!" Sometimes her mother's lack of common sense astounded her.

"Well, you'll be able to tell by the end of the evening, and as long as he's nice, you should at least invite him in," Fanny reasoned.

Not wanting to start an argument, Lizzy acquiesced, although she knew she'd never do what her mother wanted. "Alright Mom. If he's nice, I'll ask him in."

~ * ~

Soon after Lizzy ended her conversation with her mother and Lydia, the phone rang again. She almost didn't answer, she really didn't want to talk to anyone else after her draining chat, but there was always the possibility it could be...

"Hello?"

"Hello Elizabeth. Have I ever told you you're a hard person to get in touch with?"

Lizzy sat down on her sofa, a smile brightening her face at the sound of that deep, mellifluous voice. "Yes, I believe you mentioned that to me once upon a time. How are you tonight, Mr. Darcy?"

"I'm just fine, but I have to admit, my day just got better now that I've finally tracked you down," he replied charmingly.

"Oh, my, you make a girl blush, don't you," she said, lightly laughing at his flattery.

"I did call to make sure you were alright, though," he said seriously.

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"Have you seen the papers?"

"Ah, yes, we're front page news - pretty sad when there's a whole lot more happening in the world, isn't it?"

"Yes, but does that upset you?" Darcy asked, worried about her reaction to not only being in the limelight, but also being there in a passionate embrace.

"I would think it would bother you more. I know how you dislike that type of intrusion in your life," Lizzy responded honestly.

"You would think it would bother me, but somehow it doesn't. Besides, I get to stare at this photo all day. I rather like it," Darcy answered, with buoyant delight in his voice.

"That is quite shocking," Lizzy said laughing. She was ecstatic with their ability to carry on a conversation without fighting, and she loved every moment of it. For when Darcy poured on his charm, she practically tingled with the attention.

"But I am a little worried about what George Wickham will say tomorrow night," he said, returning to his earlier seriousness.

"I think I have it covered," Lizzy said confidently. "Oh, really? I take it you'll be spinning the story a bit?"

"Well, more like avoiding certain details. I've already had a practice go with my mother," Lizzy explained.

"Care to elaborate?" Darcy said, pleased she seemed to take his word that Wickham wasn't to be trusted.

Lizzy explained what she told her mom but then that begged the question, "Are you afraid of telling your mother about us?"

"YES!" Lizzy answered emphatically.

Darcy was taken aback at this admittance. He knew Fanny Bennet wanted her daughters to be social climbers so he thought Lizzy would have been proud to inform her mother about his interest. In fact, his ego was a little bruised that she had answered so forcefully.

"May I ask why?"

"Darcy, you and I would never have a moment's peace until my mother had me married, barefoot and pregnant," Lizzy stated matter-of-factly. She almost bit her tongue after saying this, but she hoped he saw the humour in the statement rather than terrifying him with the presumptuousness. She was relieved as she heard him chuckle seconds later.

"That's a sight I might like to see as well," he replied, surprising them both.

Lizzy decided to keep the conversation light. "Well, that ain't gonna happen for quite some time. I'm only 24 and not looking to be a mother for a few years yet."

Darcy decided to leave the topic as well, knowing full well it was rather soon to discuss it. "Well, actually, what you look like in a few years time, barefoot or otherwise, is a little less worrisome to me than what you'll look like tomorrow night."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, I hope you don't wear a certain red dress, or anything resembling it, on your outing with George." Darcy couldn't bring himself to calling Lizzy's evening a "date".

"You're not trying to dictate what I can and cannot wear, are you?" Lizzy asked, more amused than perturbed by his nerve. She was trying to get him to ease up on the possessiveness, but he was a tough nut to crack. He just didn't seem to even want to stop, so what he said next surprised her.

"I wouldn't dare presume to tell you what to wear. As I said, it is my hope you don't wear anything too revealing. Elizabeth, I realize you think I'm possessive, but I wish you would believe me that in this instance, it has more to do with my dislike of this particular man than with my jealousy of other men who might find you attractive. As much as I dislike that idea as well, there's nothing I can do to prevent it. You are far too lovely not be noticed."

"How is it that you've managed to give me a compliment when you're trying to convince me to do what you want?" Lizzy asked, bemused at his disarming abilities.

"Is that what I've achieved? Well, I must be learning something. It's a far cry from most of our confrontations... I mean conversations, isn't it?" he said smiling. She could feel his cheeriness over the phone.

"Yes, yes, it is," she answered happily. They continued to chat for another half-hour, about his day, about the newspapers and about anything that entered their minds. Ultimately, both had either errands to run or work to do and so hesitantly said their goodbyes.

Lizzy knew she would rather be at tomorrow night's performance with Darcy and in some ways cursed her stubbornness, but his behaviour the night before had only egged her on and she didn't feel she'd acted unfairly. She would spend the necessary time with her date tomorrow night and set him free as early as possible. By the way he had acted on their first meeting, she was sure he'd land on his feet with other plans if she wasn't as accommodating as he expected.

As Lizzy waited for her limo and date to arrive, she checked herself in the mirror. Darcy must be getting to me, I look like I'm going to a wake, not a concert.

She really didn't look awful; she was just dressed conservatively in a simple grey, high-necked pinstriped pantsuit. Truth be told, she really had no desire to impress George, regardless of Darcy's opinion of the man.

Jane came down the stairs to see her off. At Lizzy's request, she was staying the night at their place, an occurrence that was becoming less and less frequent. Although Lizzy didn't want to separate her sister from her love nest, she wanted her home when she arrived back from the concert... just in case.

"Not trying to impress the man with your figure, are you? Heavens, you can certainly tell whether you're interested in someone or not. A grey suit? Where's your red dress?" Jane teased.

"Very funny. I told you how I thought he was a bit creepy and Darcy's opinion of him didn't exactly help any," Lizzy replied.

"So, everything seems to be patched up between you two. Do you believe me when I say I'm glad? You know, it was wrong of me to interfere. I'm usually not like that," Jane admitted.

"You were just trying to protect your little sister, I know. Don't worry. Everything is fine. We're seeing each other Saturday night. I told him I wanted to take it slow," Lizzy explained.

Jane laughed silently and shook her head. "You two? You can hardly keep your hands off each other when you're together, although Darcy seems to have respect for you when you're asleep. He kept his contact to your feet."

"We're adults, and we'll just have to learn how to behave ourselves," Lizzy answered defensively.

"Uh-huh... whatever you say," Jane replied smugly as the doorbell rang.

"Here I go, on a thousand dollar date," Lizzy said, rolling her eyes, taking a deep breath and smoothing out her suit. She opened the door to the dashingly handsome man who carried a bouquet of red roses in his hand ... she'd never really like red roses ...

"Lizzy," he said as he took a step inside. "You look ... lovely, very chic."

She tried to hide a smirk with her best innocent smile.

"Why, thank you, George, these are ... lovely," Lizzy replied, using the same adjective knowing they both didn't mean it. "I'd like you to meet my sister Jane. She and I live here together."

"Oh, your sister is your roommate? Isn't that adorable?" George answered; a plastered, television grin upon his face. He did manage to give Jane the once over, though.

Lizzy wanted to burst out laughing at the awkwardness of the moment. She could read this man's thoughts. One, she was wearing a highly unsexy outfit - difficult to remove; two, if he took her home, she had a roommate; and three, if she didn't work out, maybe her sister was available.

"Jane, would you mind putting these in water, I think George and I should head out to our dinner reservations," Lizzy said, wanting to get the show on the road.

Before leaving, however, George couldn't resist extending his hand out to Jane, and when she reciprocated, he leaned down to kiss it. "A pleasure meeting you, Jane. Beautiful women seem to run in your family."

Jane smiled sweetly, but noticed the amused glint in Lizzy's eyes. She managed to respond with a simple, "Thank you," to George and let them head out. Although she didn't find him "creepy", she did think he was too smooth by half. He seemed nice enough though, but she was sure Lizzy would put him in his place if anything got out of hand.

~ * ~

Lizzy kept the conversation casual as they drove in the limousine but by the time they had their table at the restaurant, George asked what had been on his mind since Thursday morning. "So, I see you also bought a date with the illustrious William Darcy. Should I feel slighted that you considered him ten times worthier than I?"

George kept his tone light, for as bruised as his ego had been when he read the papers, he speculated that if this woman had spent eleven grand in one night, she may be worth keeping close, even if she was interested in William Darcy. He knew Darcy to be a cold fish, and even if the man was interested in the delectable treat before him, he would quickly tire of her. George may not have been a monogamous individual, but neither was he fickle. He saw no need to drop a woman too quickly, regardless of whether he was involved with several others.

"Oh, I was wondering when you were going to mention that," Lizzy said smoothly. Taking Darcy's words of warning to heart, and her own opinion of the man, she had decided to play it safe.

"I don't know what Darcy was doing at the auction, but he did come over to speak to Jane and me. You see, Jane is seriously dating his good friend Charles Bingley," Lizzy explained. So far, she felt she was staying pretty close to the truth. She really didn't understand what possessed him to enter the building in the first place.

"Oh, Charles Bingley. He's a very lucky man," George replied, mentally crossing out Jane from his list. Too bad, sisters might have been fun.

"They're both lucky to have found each other," Lizzy answered honestly. "Anyway, Rock'N Robin noticed Darcy and tried to drag him on-stage. I don't know how close you are to the man, but I know him well enough through Charles and Jane to know he does not like that sort of thing. Well, as I was one of the only people there who knew him personally, he asked me to bid on him with his own money, so that no one would manage to buy a date with him, and being the big-hearted girl that I am, I agreed. So you see, you're the only one I actually paid for," Lizzy summed up with a coquettish smile.

"Ah, well, that boosts my ego then," George responded with a cocky, delighted look, but then had one more thought. "And the kiss we all saw in the newspapers?"

"Well, Caroline Bingley was there - she's his ex - and I think she's been harassing him, so he asked me to put on a little show," Lizzy answered smoothly.

"Then that begs the question... did you like putting on the show?" George probed.

"Oh, it was fun while it lasted, but he's not exactly in my league," Lizzy replied, taking a sip of her wine and absent-mindedly resting her hand on the table, an error on her part.

George wasted no time and placed his hand atop of hers. He gazed directly into her eyes and in a conspiratorial whisper, he said, "I'm very glad he's not my competition then."

George was no longer interested in Lizzy for her monetary potential, he was back to wanting her for her body; pure and simple, and as far as he was concerned, he was quite certain he could manage to attain that goal by the end of the night.

But for the grace of her diplomatic skills, Lizzy would have rolled her eyes and laughed in the man's face for such a come-on. For goodness sake, she paid for this date for charity - she could have been married for all he knew.

But then again, had she been younger, say 18 or so, heck maybe even 20, she may have been innocent enough to fall for his compliments and charms. However, having been on the diplomatic scene for almost four years, she was quite accustomed to this kind of behaviour and knew his type of flattery was not simply because he was attracted to her and only her. It was practiced, it was smooth and it had one goal in mind - getting her flat on her back as soon as possible. These types of lines would be repeated to another victim on another night and she only hoped the next woman in line was as knowledgeable about men's habits as she was. She was a little curious, though, about George's direct questions, and she felt no qualms in stating, "You do seem to take an eager interest in that gentleman's concerns."

"Darcy and I don't get along. It's a long story and I won't bore you with details but let's just say he nearly got me fired simply because of his personal dislike for me. In fact, I'm surprised he didn't warn you against me... didn't he arrive when you were bidding on me?" George asked, trying to avoid discussing his involvement with the man.

"Well, to be honest, I think that's actually why he entered the auction area. I didn't really want to tell you, but he did warn me about bidding on you," Lizzy admitted. She felt that most of what she was telling him was true... she just omitted a few facts he needn't know about.

"So, do you believe him?"

Lizzy simply countered with the facts. With wide eyes, she responded, "George, I'm here with you, aren't I? Doesn't that answer your question?"

He smiled appreciatively at her response and whatever misgivings he had, vanished. He was ready to enjoy the evening with an extremely intriguing woman and take matters into his own hands. He only wished she were wearing something more suitable to assist his hands in getting to those matters.

Lizzy had tried to stealthily pull her hand away, but at the first inkling of her withdrawal, he squeezed it in place. She let him have his victory but couldn't help but look about the restaurant, for she strongly suspected that at some point Darcy would show up.

As wonderful as their evening had been on Wednesday, she still worried about the degree of trust he held for her. If he shows up tonight, it will only prove I was right to take it slow.

As the evening progressed, George tried to tempt her in many different ways, attempting to stroke her hand lightly during the performance, whispering a comment in her ear while accidentally brushing his lip against her lobe, telling her how enchanting she looked when she was lost in the music and even trying the juvenile trick of stretching his arms in order to wrap one around her.

Lizzy did her best to ignore him and most of the time she was successful, as she was so enraptured with the performance. Even with the unwanted attentions of the man next to her, she was happy she had come. She enjoyed every single, flawless note and was brought to tears more than once. The only time she was distracted was when she thought about looking for Darcy ... and to her relief, and surprise, he was nowhere to be found.

By the time they were back in the limo, George had caught on to the fact he was going to have a hard time getting this woman in the sack that night. He still hadn't given up, though, and decided to prolong the date. He placed his hand on her knee while he asked, "Why don't we go out for a drink, Lizzy? The night's too young and you've paid an awful lot of money for this."

"That's very sweet of you, George," Lizzy said, placing her hand over his, giving him hope. "But it's really not necessary. I've enjoyed myself profoundly. The concert was incredible."

She looked at him innocently and slowly moved his hand over to his knee. She didn't immediately let go, so he was still feeling confident. "I'm actually still recovering from my past month of work. It's been really chaotic and my sleep rhythms are way out of whack. This girl needs her beauty rest."

As she finished talking, she removed her hand from his, and even a man as vain as George Wickham realized she had just tactfully dismissed his attempt at getting anywhere.

It had now become a matter of pride for George to conquer this woman. She had rejected him at every possible turn and he was not accustomed to such hesitation. Mind you, he rarely hit on a woman so competent, but he wasn't of a mind to see the difference. Desperate times called for desperate measures and as they neared her townhouse, he began a phony search for his cell phone. He gave Lizzy a sheepish smile and put his plan in place. "Lizzy, I have to confess, I didn't expect my evening to be over so soon. Now that I have some extra time, I thought I'd meet up with some friends, but I can't seem to locate my cell phone. Could I use your phone when we reach your place?"

It took all the self-control Lizzy could muster not to guffaw in amused frustration. He would not quit.

However, there was no harm in letting him in her home for a phone call. Although she had warned her mother he could be an axe murderer, the likelihood of a sports anchor having that side occupation was miniscule. Jane would be there and she could finally have another person on her side to usher him out the door when the time came.

"Of course, George," Lizzy replied sweetly. "I wouldn't dream of ruining your evening."

As they pulled up to her townhouse Lizzy spotted her parents' car parked on the street and worried her mother had shown up to meet her date. Cringing to herself, she led George into her townhouse only to wince further upon seeing who was there - Lydia.

Lizzy shouldn't have been surprised; this was precisely the type of stunt for which Lydia was known. "Lizzy! Oh, was your date tonight? I just came over to hang with my sisters but if you're busy..."

"No, Lydia. George is just here to make a phone call. George, this is my youngest sister Lydia. Lydia, I believe you know who George is," Lizzy said stiffly.

Lydia proceeded to gush about him being her favourite journalist, about his impeccable suit and about how he was even more handsome in person. By this time, Jane had come downstairs and had shot Lizzy an apologetic look. Lydia kept babbling and George seemed quite amused with his star-struck fan. It was the best attention he'd gotten all night - attention he was used to.

"George, have a seat on the couch. Would you like a drink?" Lydia offered as she led him into the living room and began to play hostess, never once considering the fact it wasn't her place to do so.

"As a matter of fact, I'd love a cup of coffee, if you have any," George replied looking self-contentedly at Lizzy. It was now as if they were playing a game. George knew he wasn't getting anywhere with Lizzy, he knew she seemed to hold him in some kind of disdain, so he now taunted her with his presence. If she dared reject him, he was going to make her feel as uncomfortable as possible.

"Lizzy, go make it, would you?" Lydia said, dismissing her sister who obviously had no clue how to please a man.

"Of course," Lizzy answered brusquely. As Lizzy turned into the kitchen the phone rang and she grabbed it quickly as if worrying George would answer it for her.

"Hello?"

"Hello Elizabeth. It's good to hear your voice. How was the performance?" Darcy asked leadingly. He had called right on cue, punctual as ever.

"Do you mean Renée Fleming or Wickham?" she asked in a hushed tone.

"You know me very well," he responded with a hint of satisfaction in his voice.

"I'm starting to," Lizzy said as she measured out some coffee, putting an extra tablespoon to ensure George's displeasure in choosing such a beverage. "So? How was everything?" Darcy urged.

"Can't really talk about it right now," Lizzy said, almost in a whisper. "He's in the living room."

"What?" Darcy got up from bed and began to head for the door. It was one thing for Lizzy to be out in public with the man, but having him alone in her own home; he wouldn't allow it.

"He needed to use the phone. Unfortunately, you've called in the meantime so I guess he has an excuse to stay a little longer."

"Get him out of there," Darcy strongly suggested, trying desperately to hold his anger in check.

"Darcy, Jane and Lydia are here with me. There's no reason to worry," Lizzy said, trying to quell his agitation.

"Lydia? What's she doing there?" Darcy was not comfortable with that idea. Georgie had been about her age when Wickham...

"Oh, she and Jane are keeping him entertained. You see, Lydia, my social secretary offered George a drink and had me fetch it. Now she's fawning over him. Poor Jane, she has to put up with listening to her. At least I'm in here making coffee," Lizzy explained. This assuaged his worries more than she realized. He knew very well how protective Jane could be of her sisters and he felt confident with her watching over Lydia.

Little did Lizzy or Darcy realize, Jane had decided to go back upstairs, leaving Lydia to her own devices. Her sister's adulation of the man was making Jane ill and she assumed Lizzy would be back momentarily. She'd no idea who had called so late but Lizzy wasn't one to keep guests waiting.

"Don't let him stay long," Darcy advised.

"Don't worry, he won't. Maybe we should talk tomorrow?" Lizzy said, wanting to get back in to the room to get George out as soon as decently possible.

"Why don't you call me before you go to bed," Darcy asked leadingly. He so loved to listen to her when she was cozy and comfortable. The sound of her voice took on a whole dimension of sweetness when she was relaxed and he enjoyed the thought of being with her at that moment.

"Are you going to tuck me in over the phone?" she asked, a cheery note in her voice.

"Unless I'm offered the opportunity to do it in person," Darcy responded, their flirtatious play making each of them momentarily forget George Wickham was in Lizzy's living room. In fact, they became lost in their little conversation for a few more moments giving Lydia the opportunity she needed. She was getting on famously with George, he was as open to her coquettery as any man she'd ever met and when she slipped him her cell phone number, he just as willingly slipped his to her, mentioning where he'd be that night... maybe she could sneak out?

When Lizzy heard an unmistakable giggle, she was brought back to the reality of the situation. "I better go. Jane doesn't need to be chaperone for this long. I'll call you back."

Lizzy was a little surprised upon re-entering the living room to see only Lydia and George, however, she thought little of Jane's absence. She passed George some coffee and watched him as he drank her horrid concoction with as little reaction as possible.

They made small talk and Lydia had suddenly become calmer; she was now behaving a bit better and Lizzy was relieved by the transformation. George made a quick phone call, thanked Lizzy for the delightful evening and expressed his wish of seeing them all again. Lizzy missed his fleeting glance at Lydia as she had lowered her eyes trying to hold back her disgust.

As she closed the door to that obvious lie, she turned to Lydia and said, "Don't ever try to pull anything like that again."

"What do you mean?" Lydia asked, worried Lizzy had seen her pass her number to George.

"I mean, showing up here to harass a man who's much too old for you. He has better things to do that put up with the attentions of a 17 year old."

"I think he liked me," Lydia said, insulted at Lizzy's obviously incorrect assumption. If she were a smarter young woman, she would have known better than to point out her thoughts on the subject, however, she couldn't stand having Lizzy being so smug.

"Well, that's lovely. I hope you have a wonderful life together," Lizzy answered dismissively. "So, I presume you're staying here tonight. It's a bit late to drive home."

"Well, I'd rather sleep in my own bed, to tell you the truth," Lydia replied, thinking she now had the perfect alibi. Mom and Dad think I'm here, Lizzy and Jane will think I'm at home.

"Are you sure? It's pretty late, Lydia," Lizzy replied, softening her approach. As frustrating as Lydia could be, she was her younger sister and she didn't want her taking any unnecessary risks.

"Honest, Lizzy, I'll be fine. It's actually pretty quiet on the roads at this time of night. Don't worry about me," Lydia said sweetly.

"Okay, but call me when you get home, alright?"

"No problem," Lydia said, kissing her sister's cheek. "Thanks for the intro to George, it made my night! Bye!"

Lizzy was too preoccupied with the thought of calling Darcy to even notice her sister's enthusiasm was more than usual, however, she ended up keeping her call to Darcy short, as she didn't want to miss Lydia's call.

Lydia kept her cool after leaving the house and called George's cell number. He indicated his location and she headed off to join him. Her brain suddenly became quite sharp when she knew she was being sneaky, and she made sure to call Lizzy after an appropriate length of time to tell her she made it home, safe and sound. She then proceeded to have the time of her life.

Chapter XII

"I desperately needed to speak to you," Lizzy began enticingly as Darcy answered the phone early Saturday afternoon.

"I'm at your service, Elizabeth," he said huskily, wondering what she was up to, but still getting caught up in the possibilities.

"I need to know something about us," she continued provocatively.

"Yes?" This was getting interesting in Darcy's opinion ... but then the bubble burst.

"What the heck am I supposed to wear tonight?" she asked with a little huff in her voice, but she couldn't repress a laugh from escaping after getting the question out.

"You tease," he replied, amusement apparent in his voice.

"Oh, I try, but I can't keep it going for very long, can I? Answer my question, please. I'm very excited about this date tonight," her mood switching from vamp to girl-next-door in a surprisingly believable manner.

"Are you now? It can't quite beat Renée Fleming."

"But the company is much better this time around."

"Thank goodness, at least I hold some attraction," Darcy mused pleasantly.

"Oh, our attraction has never been in question," Lizzy replied in a deep voice, but then not wanting him to wallow in the compliment, she quickly added, "So, what should I wear?"

He didn't want to give too much away, so he kept it simple. "Layers."

"Excuse me?"

"Make sure you're comfortable - no four inch spike heels."

"I don't think I own any."

"Pity."

"You're never satisfied, are you?"

"When it comes to you Elizabeth, I'm insatiable."

Their playful banter finally reached the point where Lizzy blushed and wished to retreat. She didn't want him to expect too much, and the intensity of their kiss on Wednesday night wasn't exactly what she had planned. She couldn't help it if her window to reality had been fogged up by a steamy dream. She desired his company - heck she desired him - but she just wasn't ready to go that step and give herself up to him yet. She loved their flirting and teasing, but she was afraid of what consequences any further action would play on her heart and soul at this point. She needed to keep focused.

"Okay, I'm still not certain what type of clothing I'm supposed to wear. What are you wearing?"

"I hadn't really thought about it, other than layers, of course," he teased.

"Are you purposely trying to frustrate me?"

"Only if you'll let me relieve your frustration," he said, continuing to goad her.

"Okay, Darcy, I'm going to count to ten. One, two-"

"Alright, alright. I'll probably wear casual pants - khakis or jeans, a warm sweater and my leather jacket. How's that?"

"Thank you," she said pointedly. "You're welcome."

"I'm very curious as to where you're taking me," Lizzy not-so-subtly hinted.

"I'm not giving away any surprises."

"Fine then. I guess I'll see you tonight," she said with a playful sulk to her voice.

"Until tonight, Elizabeth," Darcy said, letting her go, not willing to reveal a thing.

~ * ~

Lizzy fretted about her room as the time for her actual 'pick-me-up and take-me-out' date with Darcy drew nearer. She looked at herself repeatedly in the mirror and hoped she was suitable for him. Casual khakis, a ribbed chocolate brown turtle neck and a brown suede jacket that matched perfectly with her eyes were her choices for 'layers'. She was used to dressing up and it was a relief not to have to for him, but it just made her more curious as to where he was taking her. When the doorbell rang, her heart leapt. She shouldn't be nervous, she knew Darcy well enough, but somehow she still had the desire to impress him. She'd never really worried about that before - she generally had confidence in her appearance, but never had it seemed more important.

She opened the door to a casual, yet flawless Darcy, dressed as he said he would be. Little did she know, he was as nervous as she, and had debated with himself all the way to her house as to whether he should kiss her cheek or take the chance and kiss her lips. He shouldn't have wasted his energy. When he saw her, instinct took over as he took in her sparkling eyes and shy smile.

"Hello," he managed before moving to kiss her softly. Their only contact was at the lips, leaving Lizzy's body yearning for more, but worried what would happen if she let that be known.

Darcy pulled away to see the contented look on her face and a small smile graced his own. We're making progress. As much as he'd like to forget the whole evening and lift her up to her bedroom, he knew what was good for him. In fact, he had been deliberating his method all afternoon. He had decided he would let her make the move; he would be a perfect gentleman unless she requested otherwise. He knew his biggest challenge was his own willpower, but he felt the reward of her coming to him willingly would be worth the sacrifice. His cold shower before coming over would have to combat the heat he was already feeling. He would be patient ... he had to be.

"Well, hello to you, too," she finally responded with a mischievous glint. Remember, Lizzy, slow... take it slow, she thought, trying to convince herself of her own instructions.

From behind his back, Darcy revealed a glorious arrangement of flowers, all subtly colour coordinated and very fragrant. "For you."

"Mmmm... freesia. I love the smell, thank you. They're lovely. Just let me put them in some water."

As she walked away, Darcy was disappointed to see her jacket covered her bottom; he loved to watch the sway of her hips. It let his imagination run wild. Perhaps it's better this way, he mused.

Lizzy's ruminations were a little more serious. She was slightly overwhelmed with his attentions now that it was all out in the open, and that frightened her more than anything. She had hopelessly fallen for this man, despite his mercurial behaviour towards her. She knew that every time he adopted a 'my-way-or-the-highway' attitude, he'd eventually compensate by being gentlemanly, charming or even downright sexy. She wasn't certain (as Jane once mentioned) if they were healthy for each other, no matter how many sparks bounced between them. A shiver ran through her body as she thought just how well they would click physically, for she was certain she would enjoy his body, his skin, his caress, more than any man she'd ever been with ... but a bigger worry was, would he enjoy hers?

His flowers were placed prominently on the coffee table, another's had been relegated to the powder room. She had almost thrown those roses out but Jane insisted it would be a waste of beautiful roses, regardless of who had bought them.

She turned from the table and again felt another shiver as she noticed his total concentration on her, curious as to what thoughts would produce such intense contemplation from him. Taking a deep breath, Lizzy smiled expectantly. "So, are you going to tell me what you have planned for us now?"

"You mean for tonight or our future in general?" Darcy asked back, the words smooth but the playful lift of his eyebrows indicating his amusement. She had put him in his place a number of times, but he knew how to make her squirm. If she teased him, he would certainly return the favour given the chance.

"We'll start with tonight," she said, trying to suppress her smile.

"Not quite ready to tell. Why don't you come with me and I'll show you," he said, opening her front door to allow her to pass.

After she locked up, he gently took her hand and led her to the car. A young, clean-cut man was waiting with the back door opened.

"Elizabeth, this is Quinn. He works for me as my driver and my personal assistant ... he keeps my personal life in total order," Darcy explained, politely introducing the two.

"Pleased to meet you, Quinn," Lizzy said, extending her hand, surprising the man.

"Likewise, Ms. Bennet," he responded as he shook her hand. Most of Darcy's dates barely acknowledged his existence.

"Please call me Elizabeth, or better yet, Lizzy. No one calls me Ms. Bennet," she said smiling.

"Certainly, Ms. Elizabeth," Quinn smiled broadly, quickly glancing toward Mr. Darcy to ensure he didn't mind. Darcy simply smiled at Lizzy, engaged by her ability to charm his assistant and by a stray curl hanging loose from her pony tail, brushing the nape of her neck. At that moment, he would have loved to push away the curl with his lips.

Once they were driving, Lizzy began to playfully pester. She was getting rather frustrated by Darcy's lack of information. "Will you tell me where we're going now?"

"No." Seconds passed.

"How 'bout now?" she asked, imitating her little cousin's behaviour as best as possible, trying to pry the information out of him.

"No."

"Now?"

"No," he said sternly, trying desperately to keep the austere Darcy mask; a face a father would give a petulant child.

Another minute passed and finally Lizzy decided to pull out all the stops. "Are we there yet?" she whined purposefully, too curious to behave herself. Besides, she loved to provoke him. But Darcy had had enough ... and there was only one way he preferred to silence her, regardless of his best intentions to remain patient and in control.

Turning to face her, he swiftly took hold of the back of her neck and guided her within an inch of his lips. With a serious glare, he answered, "No," and kissed her soundly.

Needless to say his method worked, not necessarily in every way he would have liked. Yes, she was surprised; yes, she couldn't help enjoy the kiss; but once again she had that niggling anxiety - she worried a kiss here, a kiss there, and they would be right back where they started. He would rush her and she would back away, nervous of heading down a road with a speed limit she wasn't willing to meet and one he was only too willing to exceed.

However, all Darcy noticed was Lizzy's absolutely stunned expression that caused him to smirk; quite pleased with himself for silencing her so effectively. Only after five minutes of muteness did he clue in that perhaps she wasn't totally pleased.

But by that time however, Lizzy had recovered enough to hide any discomfort. She had also bounced her conflicting feelings around in her mind enough to realize she couldn't control every moment they spent together and that he would respect her wishes should things go farther than she was willing. She wasn't of a disposition to remain displeased and when he asked if she was alright, she gave him a derisive stare.

"Didn't you achieve your goal of shutting me up? Now, you're worried by the results? Make up your mind, sir."

He smiled at her impertinence but spoke dryly. "Well, we're near our destination, so I'm not averse to being questioned again."

"Is it really necessary for me to repeat it?" Lizzy asked.

"Yes."

"Fine," she said, rolling her eyes, not taking her own medicine very well. "Where are you taking me?"

He answered with a question of his own. "Are you afraid of heights?"

Distracted by the question, she answered without hesitation. "No, why?"

He rolled down the tinted window and pointed past the Carleton University parking lot to an open field. She craned her neck over him to see, and he watched her eyes widen with excitement.

"Really?" she asked, looking back at Darcy, who nodded once in confirmation.

There in the field lay a large basket on its side with rather substantial ropes attaching it to a deflated rainbow-stripped balloon.

"I've always wanted to go up in one, but never got the chance. Can you read minds?" Lizzy was positively jumpy with anticipation. He couldn't help but smile at her exuberance. He had noticed a bit of a hot air balloon theme in her kitchen and confirmed with Jane that it was an interest of Lizzy's. He thought he'd take the chance and it seemed his gambling paid off.

"I had a hunch," he replied, not wanting to give away his observations.

As they left the car, Lizzy grabbed his hand and urged him to jog to the balloon. She wanted to watch the whole inflation procedure. She was utterly fascinated.

Max, the pilot, greeted them and gave them the safety instructions. They were in for a beautiful sunset and the evening, although crisp, was perfect for a flight. Darcy had actually brought along gloves, hats and blankets, as the farther they went up, the cooler it would become. Late October was not the warmest of seasons to float up in the sky.

"Now, as the balloon approaches full inflation, you have the option of getting in the basket on your knees and letting it right itself, or climbing in over the edge once the balloon is nearly inflated and ready to take off," Max instructed.

Before he finished, Lizzy had already crawled in. "There's no way I could hop over the edge... my legs aren't long enough. I'm liable to get left on the ground."

Darcy laughed again at her eagerness. "I think I'll wait until it rights itself," he said as he watched the balloon inflate.

At that same moment, Quinn's cell phone as well as the pilot's rang. Both looked serious as they listened to their respective callers and when Max hung up, he quickly raised his hand and whistled to the other workers prepping the balloon. "Hold up," he yelled and turned off the propane heater.

Darcy didn't like being delayed, especially when Lizzy was so pleased. "What seems to be the problem, Max?"

"I'm afraid we won't be going up tonight," he answered firmly.

Lizzy tried to hide her disappointment but it did not escape Darcy's notice. He was most seriously displeased. "I expect there to be a very good reason for this." He spoke sternly with every intention of intimidating the man into submission unless he was informed of a plot to shoot down their balloon. He wasn't too far off.

"It seems there was a bomb threat on Parliament Hill. They're clearing the area and beginning a search but they want nothing in their air space that could be conceived as a threat. Unfortunately, the wind is blowing in that direction tonight and we can't take the chance."

"Oh my, that's awful," Lizzy remarked, removing herself from her all- fours position in the basket.

Darcy remained silent, for if he were to open his mouth, he felt the words would not be acceptable in mixed company. He was used to getting his way, and though this was a very logical explanation, it absolutely destroyed his plans for the entire evening, for not only did it affect the balloon's flight, it affected his dinner plans as well. He looked over to Quinn who confirmed his fears with a shake of his head.

Lizzy knew Darcy would be frustrated with the developments not going as he wished, however, he looked far more irritated with the situation than even she expected. She looked from Darcy to Quinn several times before saying, "Missing the balloon ride is no big deal. We can just do it again some other time, can't we?"

"It's not just that," Darcy began, but ventured no further.

"What's wrong then?" Lizzy asked, curious about his displeasure . He had nothing to do with Parliament Hill functions and responsibilities so he certainly didn't need to be concerned about the bomb threat. They happened once a year or so and usually resulted in a false alarm.

"Our dinner was to be at the top of the Peace Tower," Darcy stated simply.

"Oh," Lizzy said, rather confused. "The top of the Peace Tower? As in the Observation area?"

"Yes."

"Darcy, there's no restaurant up there and it closes at five p.m."

"I was having it catered and I had permission to use it after hours."

Lizzy was flabbergasted. Who does that? The Peace Tower on Parliament Hill? Suddenly, it all struck her as very funny, particularly because of Darcy's perturbed countenance. She tried to stifle her laugh but wasn't successful.

He looked at her incredulously - he saw no humour in these turn of events.

"Don't look at me like that. Everyone knows Parliament Hill gets bomb threats that generally amount to nothing, so I'm not some heartless wench. I'm laughing because I know this has ruined your perfectly laid out evening and your opinion of this, Mr. Darcy, is plainly visible on your face."

He still didn't look like he got the joke Lizzy was so obviously enjoying. "I don't see how this is funny, Elizabeth."

She realized she hadn't really explained herself very well so she took both his hands and stepped closer to him. "I know you went to a lot of trouble on very short notice to take me up in a hot air balloon and wine and dine me with the most beautiful view of the city, and I have to admit, I'm flattered. But please understand, I am more flattered by the fact you want to go out with me at all, and I'd be happy sitting next to you on the grass in a park doing absolutely nothing, sharing a lovely sunset. I don't need to be wined and dined. In fact, I've been served so many five course meals in the past month that I don't really need to see another in my lifetime. I just wanted to spend time with you," she said, lifting a hand to his cheek and stroking it ever so gently with her thumb. "I just want to get to know you better - not William Darcy, the publishing baron with every amusement available to him - but just you, in your khakis and loafers and warm, cuddly sweater."

She reached up on her tiptoes and softly kissed his other cheek, then barrel-hugged him, smothering herself in his sweater, exhibiting that he was indeed cuddly. Not releasing her hold, he heard her ask in a rather muffled manner, "Do you understand?"

As she finally pulled away, Darcy looked into her earnest eyes and it took his breath away. He'd only ever felt secure with those who were very close to him, whom he'd known for a long time and who he had learned to trust. Yet here was this woman that for all intents and purposes could have been after him for all the superficial accoutrements he possessed, and she was professing how she couldn't care less about them. His heart, his mind, and his soul were lost to her. She had paralyzed any defences he had ever held dear when it came to keeping himself at a distance from a woman.

Her seduction was pure, honest, genuine and utterly complete. Whether she could read this in his eyes, he didn't know, and he wasn't about to tell her what power she had over him - even if she didn't use it, it was a frightening point to give up. Perhaps at this time, she would have even been frightened to hear the truth.

As these thoughts charged through his mind, she waited patiently, expecting an answer. He smiled, almost bashfully, and to her surprise, pulled her back into his embrace. "Yes, Elizabeth, I do understand, and thank you."

Not totally understanding his reaction, she was, nonetheless, happy she had achieved her goal and altered his mood. As he held her, an idea popped into her head.

"You know what I'd like to do, Darcy?"

"Anything."

"I'd like to walk along the canal with you and maybe stop at a little café along the way if we get hungry. Or maybe, if we make it downtown, we'd have a bit more selection."

His face became serious again. "You know, Elizabeth, if we were to drive home and change, I could take you to a decent restaurant. I'm pretty sure I could get a table."

"Darcy, did you not listen to what I just said? I don't care how fancy the place is, I just want to spend time with you, and what better way to enjoy the last few decent nights before winter sets in than to walk along the canal?"

Lizzy stood with her arms akimbo, frustrated by his thick skull.

Darcy shook his head, chastising himself as he knew what she just reiterated was the absolute truth. "You're right. Your wish is my command. If it's a walk along the canal you desire, you've got it."

He offered his arm to her and she linked hers around it. He turned to Quinn and gave him instructions and then they were off.

The Rideau Canal was a man-made waterway that weaved its way through the centre of Ottawa. It was eight kilometres long and in the winter froze to become the world's longest skating rink. People who lived along it could actually skate to work during the time it was frozen as it made its way through a number of neighbourhoods all the way to the very heart of downtown. Along each side lay paths that bicyclists, in- line skaters and walkers shared. It was a lovely trail through some of the trendiest enclaves in the city and Lizzy and Darcy had time on their hands to enjoy the peacefulness of their aimless journey.

They walked in amicable silence for awhile until Lizzy asked the inevitable question. "Do you skate?"

"Not very much anymore. I used to when I was younger. My parents took me to the canal quite often and then I did the same with Georgie. I must admit, I can't remember the last time I actually skated."

"Oh, that's a shame. I try to skate on the canal fairly often in winter. I came down here with my sisters and father when I was younger, too. Mom rarely came - she didn't like to see any of her children fall... or so she said. I think she just didn't like to be out in the cold that long."

Picking up on her critique, he asked, "So you and your mother... you don't really get along well, do you?"

"Mom means well, but I guess because she had daughters she wants to see us all settled... and quickly. For some reason, she never worried so much about Jane. I guess Jane dated a lot and was usually the one to break it off. Now that she's found Charles, I don't think that will happen and Mom is pleased as punch with her choice."

"And you?" Darcy asked.

"She thinks because of the profession I'm in, I should have met some foreign duke or sinfully wealthy landowner," Lizzy answered quickly with a laugh. "Because I haven't, she thinks I'm not trying hard enough and, according to her standards, I suppose she's right."

"And your other sisters?"

"Well, Lydia is too young yet, but that doesn't stop Mom from thinking she should play the field. In Mom's warped sense of dating, the more guys Lydia brings home, the less serious the relationship, so no chance of getting too close, if you know what I mean. Mom's living in a different decade. I'm afraid Lydia is too close to all of them.

"Are you worried about her?"

"There's only so many times you can warn someone. I think she even wanted to hit on you the day of the family barbecue."

"Are you serious?"

"Well, I don't know if she'd follow through with anything. I've only ever seen her date guys her own age. I think she's too immature to actually want an older man, but she flirts shamelessly with any good- looking man. I think it strokes her ego to have them flirt back."

"Did she flirt with George?"

"Hell, yes, but he just seemed flattered and left reasonably soon after he made his phone call. I think he had better options available to him so he made a quick getaway."

Darcy was about to warn Lizzy to keep an eye on Lydia, just in case, when she interrupted his thoughts. "You haven't met my other sister, have you?"

"I had thought you had three sisters but I hadn't heard much about her."

"Kitty. She's just a year older than Lydia. The day of the barbecue she was sulking in her room because her boyfriend couldn't make it. She's studying at the University of Toronto this year and she just came home this morning for Thanksgiving weekend.* I think being away is good for her. She was just like Lydia but anytime I've talked to her in the past month and a half she seems more excited in her studies than in boys. I hope that happens to Lydia next year too."

"I can't imagine how your parents coped with four daughters. I have a hard time understanding one sister," Darcy mused.

"Well, by the time Jane was 14, Mom had her babysitting - that was until she left for university, then the honours fells to me, particularly because I got my degree in town. We're like two different families really. Jane and I were close but Jane was gone from the house so young that she really doesn't know our younger sisters that well, and you know Jane, she always sees the best in people... present company excepted, of course," Lizzy said with a wink and a grin, then added, "What about you and your sister? "

"What do you mean?" Darcy always worried when people asked this question. It was innocent enough but as yet he wasn't able to remain totally calm when his sister came up in conversation. He would have liked to tell all to Lizzy, it would be helpful to hear a woman's opinion of Georgie's behaviour, but she would be mortified if anyone knew about her mistakes.

"Well, you pretty much had to raise her, didn't you?"

"She was and is a lovely person and not just because she's my sister. She had her moments, but not like most teens," he said truthfully.

"Lucky you," Lizzy replied, smiling at his good fortune.

He merely nodded back with a forced small smile. Lucky indeed, he thought, but out loud he tried to change the direction of the conversation. "She's actually home too this weekend. I'll be fairly busy for the next couple of days, actually. Richard's family has travelled from England and I'm hosting them all for Thanksgiving dinner. Today, though, Georgie and I got to spend some time together."

"Oh, I hope she didn't mind me taking you away," Lizzy asked, a little concerned. "No, not at all," he said with a soft chuckle. "She actually wasn't intending to come home but was worried about me because of the mood I was in when I visited her. I wouldn't tell her why. Tonight, I admitted I had a date, and she figured it all out. She's very happy I have a life after all, she said. She quickly made arrangements to go out for the evening with friends."

They continued walking and chatting about happy childhood memories when Lizzy's nose suddenly perked up to the smell of something absolutely heavenly ... at least in her opinion, nothing smelled better than barbecue sausages being sold by a street vendor.

With a guttural groan, Lizzy exclaimed, "Oh, God, what I'd do for a hot Italian sausage right now."

"Excuse me?" Darcy asked, utterly confused and a little afraid of what she'd say next. She looked at his nervous face and it reminded her of the time when he'd misinterpreted Charles's swing dance comment. She laughed in his face. "A hot dog, Darcy. Can't you smell them? They smell delicious!"

Darcy wasn't one to notice street vendors. He'd gotten over that phase by the time he could pronounce Boeuf Bourguignon. He had no desire to purchase food off the street and eyed Lizzy suspiciously. "You don't really want one, do you?"

"I'd love one - it's exactly what I want."

Darcy was very nearly aghast at the thought. "Do you eat these often?"

"Of course not! Do you know how fattening they are? I'd be as big as a house if they were part of my regular diet. But I haven't treated myself to fast food in a while and a sausage would tickle my fancy. Please?"

Darcy refrained from expressing the immediate lewd thought of another type of sausage that could tickle her fancy (he was a man after all), and he couldn't help but acquiesce to her request.

"Whatever you'd like Elizabeth, but I hope you realize I had anticipated treating you to something a little more refined."

"I don't need refined, I need a sausage," Lizzy answered determinedly.

"As long as you don't expect me to have one, too," Darcy advised.

"Why not?"

"It's not exactly sanitary." Darcy looked over to the vendor skeptically.

"What planet are you from, Darcy? Loosen up. You won't die from a sausage and besides, I'm sure it's very clean. Come and have a look," Lizzy said, pulling him by his hand towards the stand.

He couldn't help but notice the impeccable condition of the barbecue, and, to be honest, the decadent aroma of the sausage on the grill.

"So?" Lizzy asked, leaning into him, staring impishly at his eyes. She loved pushing his boundaries, because for some reason, she knew he needed it.

"Perhaps," he said unconvincingly. It had been a long time and they did smell so good...

"We'll have two spicy Italian, please," Lizzy said to the vendor.

After piling on the condiments and picking the appropriate beverage - "Is it the right bouquet, Darcy?" Lizzy had teased - the two sat on the concrete edge of the canal with Lizzy girlishly swinging her legs and immediately delving into her dog.

"You look like you don't have a care in the world," Darcy observed, enjoying the picture of carefree innocence before him.

"Right now, I don't. I'm having a lovely evening with a handsome man who's treating me to my heart's desire."

"An Italian sausage and a cream soda," he said doubtfully.

"An Italian sausage and a cream soda," she said definitively.

After a few bites, Lizzy decided to ask a question that had been racking her brain for months. "Okay, I need to know... why just 'Darcy'? Why do you insist upon calling yourself by your last name? Why not William?"

He sighed and gave her a slight smile. "Do you really want to know? It's a long, boring story."

"Somehow, I doubt it," Lizzy answered and took a drink of her cream soda. "Come on, spill."

"To be honest, there are very few people who know this," he began almost hesitantly.

"Darcy," she chastised, her eyes looking heavenward, "for a boring story, that remark is rather dramatic."

"Alright, alright," he said with another sigh, but before starting, took a bite of his sausage, much to Elizabeth's chagrin. She bulged out her eyes, took a deep breath, and shoulder-checked him.

"Stop stalling."

Once he had washed his meal down with some ginger ale, he began. "Well, I started being called Darcy at the age of five. I didn't like my real name."

"At the age of five," Lizzy looked upon his with a bemused smirk. "Rather precocious, weren't you?"

"And you're surprised by this?" he answered, cocking his head to the side as Lizzy herself did on occasion.

"So, what's wrong with William?" she asked.

"Nothing, but to be honest, William isn't my real name, although it was my father's." Again he ventured nothing further.

"God, this is like pulling teeth," Lizzy complained. "Explain the whole story, Darcy, without the pregnant pauses."

"If I must," he said resignedly, but with a sly smile as he was enjoying frustrating Lizzy.

"I was named after my mother's family. My real name is Fitzwilliam and as a five year old I had the sense to know it was awful and I was very determined not to use it. I insisted on being called something else. I didn't like being called William either, as it was my father's name, not mine. You can't really argue with the logic of a five year old," he summed up, glancing over at Lizzy ruefully, a smirk crossing his face.

"But your sister calls you William, as does the media, and you signed your letter William," Lizzy said, confused with what seemed rather conflicting evidence of the validity of his story.

"My mother never stopped calling me Fitzwilliam but Georgie couldn't pronounce it so she called me William. She never stopped - besides, Darcy is her last name too. By the time I was in the public eye, it was just assumed I went by William - even those who knew different figured I cut it down. And if I had signed Fitzwilliam to my letter, you would have been confused, wouldn't you?"

"I suppose... but what's wrong with Fitzwilliam Darcy, other than it being rather imposing," Lizzy mused.

"Rather stuffy, you mean."

"Not if you say it the right way."

"I suppose I've never heard it said the right way."

Lizzy gave him an amused glance and placed her remaining food aside, but not before taking a sip of her drink and dabbing the napkin about her lips. She then slowly moved to Darcy's ear to whisper in a deeply provocative purr, sounding very much like Eartha Kitt, "I don't know, Fitzzzzzz-william - I think it's kinda sexy."

As she began to pull away, she purposely brushed her cheek to his and had planned to leave it at that. However, Darcy was a man who knew how to take advantage of a favourable situation. Before she managed to pull away completely, his hand gently grasped her exposed cheek, turning her lips to his. Before continuing his actions, he murmured, "I think I could get used to you saying that."

He then softly brought his lips to hers, a gentle nibble of a kiss, almost innocent in its tenderness. Though it was long and lingering, he didn't deepen it any further and when they pulled away from each other, Lizzy inexplicably lowered her eyes in an act of what could only be called shyness.

It was quite obvious Elizabeth Bennet was not a shy creature, no one could ever accuse her of such, but the absolute sweetness of their kiss had startled her. Yes, they had lip-locked in passionate, even energetic, embraces previously, but none had made her bashful. It was as if they'd reverted to being teenagers on their first date. It felt very much like a first kiss.

Darcy was amused by her reaction but could almost read her mind, feeling very nearly the same. Neither uttered a word, no teasing quips or sarcastic comebacks, but his hand did reach down to hers, their entwined fingers the only communication for some minutes as they both gazed out at the canal. When a mother duck and her ducklings came into view, Lizzy couldn't help but nestle against Darcy's chest, appreciating the perfection of the moment. He released her hand and wound his arm around her, amazed at his good fortune.

Finally, as Lizzy relived the kiss in her mind, another thought came to her. She looked up into his warm eyes and asked, "Why don't you call me Lizzy?

His eyes suddenly became serious. "You never gave me permission."

"Oh, silly, you don't need my permission," she responded, smiling up at him brightly, confused by his pensive look.

"I beg to differ," he said somewhat sadly, and suddenly memories of that dreadful night at Charles's came flooding back to her.

She blushed in embarrassment, looking away and trying to think of something, anything right to say. "Darcy ... if you'd like to call me Lizzy, please don't hesitate. I'm sorry you thought otherwise."

But Darcy's thoughts remained upon that evening. He'd hardly heard a word she had said. "My behaviour that night... I can't think about it without cursing myself."

"The conduct of neither - if we strictly examined it - was irreproachable, but since then I think our communication skills have improved," Lizzy answered with a soft smile, nudging his shoulder with her own. He nodded slightly as if to agree, however he still looked rather despondent.

"Oh, lighten up, Fitzwilliam. It's part of the past. We can't go back in time and change it and we're doing swimmingly now. Let's just work from our most recent interactions, okay?" Lizzy asked, trying to get him out of his funk. The evening had been too enjoyable so far and she didn't want him being morose.

Before he could respond, she began to tidy up, already putting the moment behind her.

"Are you finished?" she asked, popping up off the edge of the canal. "Come, let's keep walking."

As quickly as she had risen, she had accomplished her plan. Darcy's mood followed her lead, but as he turned to face her, she let out an unexpected laugh. He gave her an odd look whereupon she reached up with her napkin and gently rubbed the corner of his mouth.

"Oh, to have a digital camera," she said as she wiped away a spot of mustard. "I wonder how much money I could get from the rags were I to present them with a photo of Fitzwilliam Darcy with a smudge of mustard upon his face?"

She giggled in amusement and he pulled her close. "You take great delight in teasing me," he said, kissing the tip of her nose as he held her in a gentle embrace. With a smile and a firm nod, she drew away, taking hold of his hand and continuing their walk while dusk turned to dark. As they neared the end of the canal, Lizzy suggested heading towards Elgin Street, one of the busiest night-life areas of Ottawa. Darcy was at first hesitant, worrying she'd want him to go to a dance bar... or even worse, karaoke ... when all he really wanted was to have her alone. She insisted her only motive was to get a little something for dessert.

Most of their evening had been on foot, not a usual occurrence for Darcy, but enjoyable nonetheless. As they neared their destination, they happened upon a small park that met up with Elgin Street at its edge. Lizzy suddenly heard the familiar strains of that song, the one that had stirred up so much in her on its own, but also the one that was performed live while she had a certain someone's arms about her at a time that seemed so very long ago.

It was coming from a bar across the street, and although the mid- October night was brisk, the bar had its windows wide open due to the heat created by those inside. Lizzy hopped up onto a small stone ledge along the park path and said with wide eyes, "Do you hear that?"

Darcy hadn't really being paying much attention to the background noise; he had only one focus that evening. "Hear what?"

"Crash. It's fate," Lizzy answered simply.

"Crash?" Darcy asked, bewildered.

"Don't you remember... the night of the concert?" she asked with a sly smile ... and then it hit him. That night, her provocative movements, the electrical charge between them, the charade of a relationship and his attempt to deny his attraction while trying to get as close to her body as possible.

He nodded, his eyes now intense upon her.

"Dance with me Fitzzz-william," she whispered as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, the small ledge giving her the few inches she needed to be level with him; and though he was in the middle of a public park, amid the busy nightlife of Elgin Street, this man, who valued his privacy almost above all else, found himself quite willing to do as she bid him. He was becoming quite accustomed to public displays of affection, as long as they involved Elizabeth Bennet.

And as the music wafted from the windows of the bar, through the remaining leaves on the maple trees of the park on that crisp October night, the couple drifted into their own private world, reliving a moment of the past where neither was ready to admit the strength of their emotions. The charade had become a reality; they were two with an admitted attraction, but both knew it was far more than pure lust, it was truly the beginning of something wonderful, something that couldn't be captured in a bottle, something that had a foundation grounded in reality but with a magic that brought them beyond the clouds and even the stars. And while the song still held all its naughty, sexual connotations, the dancers felt much more - they knew that between them, a certain devotion had been created. Slowly, Lizzy pulled away from the embrace to meet his eye. This dance to this song was far more erotic than any of her fantasies of the past. She looked directly into Darcy's fathomless, dark pools, and both moved at once, lips melding in heated desire, but also in need, trust and pure affection.

Lizzy brought her hands to his smoothly shaved face, and as his tongue softly stroked hers, her thumb copied the motion along his jaw line. but the kiss intensified, and as it deepened, her fingers dug deeply into his curls, roughly clutching them as his touch inspired unadulterated longing to shoot through to her weakest spot. As he tightened his hold on her, her hands finally wended their way to his shoulders, gripping him intensely, unconsciously massaging him, kneading his skin, trying desperately to grasp onto something steady and strong, as all power in her body seemed to pool into one spot that had little to do with remaining upright.

However wonderful the moment felt, they were both aware they were in a public park, near a busy street. Unwillingly they parted, and for the entirety of the next song - whatever it was - they just stared into each other's eyes, their drunken haze of desire slowly transforming into tenderness, awe and contentedness, both knowing how far they'd come to reach this acknowledged mutual affection, no longer cluttered with uncertainty, but focused on shared happiness.

This happiness finally brought Lizzy back to earth, as the angry rock song that took over from the quieter music no longer suited the mood of their private party. She urged Darcy to leave the park to find a suitable spot for dessert and after a leisurely feast where each fed the other their selections, Darcy noted the time.

Even with their heated kisses, the passionate gazes and their tender touches, he was still aware that Lizzy had wanted to take things slow, and although he would have liked the evening to end at his home, in his bed, he knew it wasn't to be. He had no clue whether she intended to allow them to go farther that night, however, even asking her wasn't a possibility. He also wasn't going to let their first night be under the same roof as his sister. He had hardly ever admitted to having a social life to Georgie, let alone a love life and he didn't want to have to limit their lovemaking to under the covers in his bedroom as quiet as mice, lest someone hear.

"As ridiculous as I know this sounds, I'd actually like to be home before Georgie," Darcy admitted at a pause in the conversation.

"You're already a father, aren't you? Do you want to be there in case she brings anyone home?" she asked teasingly.

She knew none of Georgie's history so he took the comment lightly. "Something like that," he responded with a guilty nod.

Regretfully, he called his driver and tried to enjoy some stolen moments on the short drive home as Lizzy cuddled close to him. Both enjoyed the other's caresses and intimate kisses.

As they reached her townhouse, he walked her to her door and she asked him to join her inside.

"Come on in for a minute for... you know, what's it called? Like on the Love Boat?" she asked with an impish smile. "A nightcap?"

She wasn't willing to end the evening just yet, but as soon as she turned to let him in, she nearly took back her offer. She realized asking him in might indicate she wanted him to stay, and though her heart and body wanted him to do just that, her mind still held some reservations. She knew she was dancing delicately between enjoying their flirty conversations and trying to keep their physical pace comfortable. As much as he had proven himself to her over the past few days, she still had an issue with trusting him... or more particularly, trusting what he wanted from her, because questions kept popping up in her mind.

Why her? Why did he assure her he wanted a relationship with her and not someone else? What did she have that was so special? It wasn't that she wasn't confident in herself with regard to her looks or intelligence or her capability in her profession, but Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy had the pick of the litter if he so chose.

So with these thoughts in mind, she led him into the kitchen, trying to act as calm and confident as possible under the circumstances. "What can I offer you? We have wine, beer and a bunch of non-alcoholic drinks in the fridge. I also have some Bailey's and some Glen Morangie."

"You drink Glen Morangie?" he asked upon seeing the bottle.

"Well, to be honest, I bought a bottle this week. I haven't opened it yet. I... I thought you might be spending a bit of time here and I remembered this was your drink of choice on your birthday," Lizzy answered sheepishly.

A slow smile crept upon Darcy's face at her admission. She expected him to be around; he liked hearing that, in fact he was rather touched and couldn't resist expressing it. "Since you've been so considerate in making sure you have my preferred drink, how can I refuse," he murmured in her ear, coming up behind her, gently pinning her to the kitchen counter as he brought his hands to her waist. His hands began massaging her sides and his lips nibbled her earlobe as she tried to concentrate on opening the bottle. Soon, his nibbles gave way to his tongue tracing edge of her ear and she completely forgot the task in front of her. She turned to reciprocate the attention and soon they were again locked in a heated embrace; and at a frantic pace, they delved into each other's mouths, duelling tongues and hungry lips attacking the other with equal ardour. Darcy's hands found their way under her turtleneck and swept at her skin, tickling her ribcage as his thumbs slowly snuck higher.

Lizzy's body was reacting as fervently as his. Her hands were under his sweater at his back, wanting desperately to be close to him and when his thumbs finally reached their destination, she let out of moan of pleasure, never once indicating she had any problem with the direction of their actions.

When they finally came up for air, he looked down upon her face with heated but questioning eyes. His hands slipped back down to her waist, softly stroking her supple skin while he waited for her to make her next move. He may have initiated the moment, but had only followed her lead by becoming so intense. He knew he needed to let her be the one to forge ahead - it was not his decision to make.

As they both breathed heavily, the pause enabled Lizzy to pull back. She didn't know what to say but she could tell he was waiting for her direction. Where, oh, where were her smooth conversational skills when it mattered?

Suddenly, all she could think about was the fact he had been with a great number of women in his life and although she knew he was attracted to her, she was worried about not stacking up. Although mingled with a yearning to be near him, her doubts were written all over her face. "Elizabeth, don't worry. I'm not going to rush you," he said softly, tracing his fingers down her temple to her jaw line. He moved back and smiled - a gentle, patient smile, wanting to ease any nervousness or unnecessary apprehension she had about their night together and his expectations.

"You must think me such a tease," she said with a slight hitch in her voice. She turned away, ostensibly to fix him his drink, but truly because she was embarrassed by her behaviour. She was carried away by their passion but then pulled away because of her uncertainty, yet he was so understanding. How could she explain to him how she felt?

When she turned to face him with his drink, he took it and then her hand. He walked her into the living room where he sat in the corner of the sofa allowing her to lean against him. "I don't think you're a tease. You explained yourself very well in your letter and you have every right to want to wait. It's your decision and I respect it."

"But do you understand where I'm coming from?" she asked hopefully. She really didn't want to explain, she just wanted him to utomatically 'get it'. Her hopes were dashed with his reply.

"I'm afraid I don't understand completely."

Lowering her eyelids and biting her lip, she knew she needed to be honest about her love life and her view of their relationship. He had been upfront a few evenings earlier; she owed him that much.

"How much do you know about my love life exactly?" she asked, wondering how detailed a description Jane had given him.

"I know you don't take relationships lightly," he said with a slight upturn of his mouth.

"Nothing more?"

"Not details, no."

"I think I should tell you ... I've ... I've only been intimate with two men - well I shouldn't even say 'men'. The first time I made love was with my high school boyfriend. We were still just kids, I suppose. We dated for nine months before it happened, and neither of us was very experienced, nor did we ever get too... I don't know... experimental. The second guy was in university and I didn't actually sleep with him until about the fourth month of our relationship. I needed to feel comfortable before I took the plunge," she said, looking up to see his reaction. She only saw the thoughtful face of a man who was listening attentively. He nodded in comprehension of her explanation but didn't comment.

"I know you've seen me tease and talk playfully with men, but none with any serious intentions until you. I've never been so forward and I didn't know why at first. Well, that's not quite the truth. The night of your birthday, I looked at you as a pretty good conquest to have as a one night stand. I'd never thought about one before, but you did something to me that made me want you, if only for a new experience. But quickly, I changed my mind when things started heating up. I wanted to mean more to you than some floozy who you could say thanks and goodbye to. I think you know that."

"Yes, and I want more from you than that; you know that, don't you?" he asked, concerned she still didn't think he was serious about them.

"Well, yes and no. I know you say you want a relationship, but what if ... what if I'm not what you're looking for?" she asked, biting her lip again. She was euphemizing and she was fairly certain he wouldn't know what she meant.

He answered quite decisively, giving her a penetrating stare. "Elizabeth, I think you're exactly what I've been looking for."

She nearly melted at his response but she knew she had to explain what she had meant. "But what if ... what if I can't compete with what you've had in the past?"

"But I've never had a serious relationship, I've told you that," he answered still not getting her point.

She wanted to strangle him for being so obtuse but it spurred her into being blunt.

"Darcy, what if I can't compete with your former partners? All the attraction in the world doesn't mean that much if I don't perform up to standard," she said rather petulantly.

A low rumble started from deep in his chest. It shocked Lizzy so, she almost got up and left. He thinks this is funny? How dare he?

She did attempt to move away from him but instead he drew her upon his lap, grasping her tightly so she wouldn't move. "You are quite a woman, do you know that? You worry about your abilities to impress me in bed? Elizabeth, you can do more to me with one kiss than any woman has been ever been able to do to me-period. Do you know I had to have a cold shower before coming on this date? And I know I'll need another one afterwards. Just because you think you're inexperienced, doesn't mean you lack any passion or sensuality. You drive me crazy with it, haven't you realized?"

She wrapped her arms around his neck and squeezed him tightly in appreciation. "Well, I guess underneath all my talk, I'm just a modest kind of girl. Darcy, you don't know how much I needed to hear you say that. Thank you."

"No need to thank me; it's the truth," he said, drawing her away so he could look in her eyes. He then gave her a determined, all-consuming look. "We will make love, Elizabeth - make no doubt about it - and I'm quite certain my patience will not last four months. But I agree, it's not tonight. It will be when you are ready and I will make sure it will be the best night of your life."

His piercing gaze and the intimate subject stirred Lizzy's blood. She was not embarrassed; she was, in fact, quite aroused by his certainty. However, just as he said it wouldn't be tonight, she knew she wouldn't let that happen either. Trying to deter her emotions from getting the better of her, she resorted to humour to change the path of the conversation. "Cocky, Mr. Darcy, aren't we?" she asked with an arch of an eyebrow.

"Yes. But I'm quite willing to back up my statements with fact," he said smiling, happy she was back to being a playful Lizzy.

"Just not tonight..." she said softly, making sure that was his true intention.

"Just not tonight," he repeated almost as softly. They held each other's gaze until he finally leaned into to her, barely brushing his lips with hers. After leaning back, he decided it was time to call it a night or it would become far too difficult to leave.

"Georgie may be back soon and as you so aptly put it, I behave like a father. It wouldn't do to have her in before me, now would it?"

"No, you're quite right," Lizzy answered, playing along. "As much as I hate to see this evening end, you should go resume your duties."

As they rose from their comfortable positions on the sofa, they never strayed from each other's touch until being forced to when Darcy put on his jacket. She walked him to his car and stood upon her tiptoes to give him a proper goodnight kiss, as spine-tingling as the one against the kitchen counter - so deep, so fevered, she was almost of a mind to invite him back in.

But they let the moment stand alone and as Darcy opened his door, he leaned over and placed one more chaste kiss on her cheek whispering, "You wanted to make sure I really needed that cold shower, didn't you?"

Lizzy grinned and nodded decidedly.

As the car drove away and she walked back to her door in a slight daze, she couldn't help but mutter, "To be honest, I think I'll be needing one myself."

* Thanksgiving is held in October in Canada.

Chapter XIII

While the two celebrated Thanksgiving weekend with their respective families, the thoughts of neither strayed from the other, no matter what distractions were but before them. Yes, the Gardiners' children were delightful and fun, and Lizzy was able to play with them to their satisfaction, however, every once in a hile, a shiver would run down her spine as she thought of the way Darcy had touched her or whispered in her ear. Her eyes would glaze over and her family sometimes had to bring her back from her daze.

Darcy didn't fare much better. Not only was his mind constantly aroused by memories of Lizzy, he couldn't help but be affected by her honesty. The irony of such a material change in his opinion of her from his initial assessment didn't escape him. It couldn't have been easy for her to reveal such intimate details to him, to open herself up to his scrutiny. Yes, he had admitted the same sort of details to her, but to divulge she was so innocent in this day and age, when before he had thought she was not, was to admit a vulnerability he didn't know she had. Her professions enabled her to peel another layer from his hard exterior shell and, without knowing it, Lizzy was causing his heart to open to her that much further.

She was quite aware, however, that he enjoyed his evening. Prior to her departure to her parents' home on Sunday, she received a delivery; a miniature version of their aborted hot air balloon ride that included a basket and a rainbow-striped balloon. Inside the basket was a note requesting a raincheque for their flight and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot - the one that wasn't used the night prior. He suggested she take it to her family celebrations as a reminder of him. He needn't have worried. Her thoughts rarely strayed from him from the time he'd left her to the time they met again for lunch at his office on Wednesday.

Lizzy had never been to Darcy's place of work and was intensely curious as to what it would look like. As she exited the elevator onto the 20th floor of the Confederation Building, she was highly impressed. Darcy Publishing's main offices had a literary feel to them, even though they sat high in the sky of a modern building. Rich panelled walls and bookcases welcomed her in the lobby, best-selling books were highlighted on pedestals and comfortable-looking club chairs invited one to sit and take a moment to read. Unfortunately, she had neither the time, nor the inclination during that lunch hour. While on any other day she would eat up the atmosphere and sit herself down with a good book, she had only one object of interest in those offices and he was waiting for her.

The young, highly attractive, blonde receptionist looked up with an inviting smile as Lizzy approached her. "May I help you?"

"I'm here to see Mr. Darcy," Lizzy stated cautiously. "Could you direct me to his office?"

"Is he expecting you?" she asked pleasantly, but with a rather puzzled stare.

"Yes, I'm meeting him for lunch. Did he not leave my name with you? I'm Liz- Elizabeth Bennet." She knew Darcy would probably use her proper name, and the look on the receptionist's face gave her the impression she should not confuse the young woman even more.

"He probably left your name with his assistant. You can head right through the double doors and I'm sure she'll help you," she said as her phone began ringing. As Lizzy walked away, the receptionist couldn't help but give her the once over. Rarely did Mr. Darcy entertain a lady at lunchtime but for well-known authors or board members. Once Lizzy had stated her name, the young woman immediately recognized her from the newspapers so she knew it wasn't a business meeting. She would have killed to show Lizzy in to the office but she couldn't leave her post. She wanted to learn more about the woman who could actually interest her divine employer. She had tried numerous times to catch his attention to no avail.His assistant was also attractive but much more mature, probably about 50 years of age. She knew exactly who Lizzy was and phoned her employer immediately. Not ten seconds later, the door opened to Darcy smiling broadly. He had missed her and the look on her face confirmed she reciprocated that emotion.

"Julie, could you please ensure I'm not disturbed for the next hour," Darcy said, wiping the grin off his face to try to appear as his usual austere self ... but not in time. Julie had no trouble discerning why it was there ... besides, she had assisted Mr. Darcy and Quinn with certain purchases and deliveries (not all of them, mind you) and had been looking forward to meeting the lady standing before her.

"Certainly, Mr. Darcy," she answered with a smug sideways glance.

Lizzy didn't immediately get the chance to assess if Darcy's work domain reflected his personality, for as soon as he had shut his office door, he embraced her for a long-awaited kiss. A good while later he released her, backing away only slightly with his nose just touching hers. "It's nice to see you again," he admitted with a sheepish grin.

A rosy hue rose to her cheeks, flustered and flattered by his openness and passionate welcome. "It's nice to be seen," Lizzy uttered in a whisper.

She stepped back but did not take her hands or eyes away from him. "So, I'm in the office of the great publishing baron Fitzwilliam Darcy. Will I be impressed?" she asked while winking, not yet getting a full view of the office. When she turned, expecting the standard fare, she realized she'd probably need a tour.

"I don't know about impressed, but I hope you feel comfortable. This is just the seating area and my main office is straight ahead but had lunch set up in the boardroom through those doors, although if you'd prefer to sit here on the sofa you're welcome to."

Lizzy was slightly overwhelmed with the whole set-up. Oh, she had seen lovely buildings, had dined in private dining rooms, however, countries owned them, not individuals and certainly not someone with whom she was romantically linked. She didn't know if she could ever grow accustomed to the opulence.

"The boardroom table is fine. Everything here is just lovely," she answered slightly dazed as she scanned the room. The view from the floor to ceiling windows mesmerized her, and she walked towards them rather than the boardroom.

"Why didn't you just take me here for dinner after our plans fell through? It's a beautiful view," she said wistfully, looking out at the magnificent panorama of the city.

"I think it was a little too close to Parliament, and besides, you just had to have a sausage," Darcy teased, coming up behind her, placing his hands on her forearms.

Lizzy shook her head and laughed; Darcy's comment had brought her back from her trance. "Of course I did, but I assume today's lunch is a bit more your style? Why don't we eat?"

Walking into the boardroom, she again fell silent, lost in her own thoughts, but it wasn't the grand display of food before her that took her breath away, it was a memory of a lusty notion she had had a long time ago upon seeing Mr. Darcy in his business suit. Walking along the table, she softly traced its edge with the tip of a finger, thinking, yes indeed, she would love to see him sprawled out before her right there. Though Lizzy felt it wise to wait for intimacy, it didn't stop her fantasies from being extremely active.

She smiled a knowing, private smile and turned to face the man before her, trying her best to not look guilty.

His only thought while watching her was that she looked spectacular.

Their lunch was leisurely and intimate, talking of their day and the luxury of the moment. Neither usually took the time to have such a lavish midday meal but seeing each other again was far more important than dealing with issues that popped up every day without fail. The outside world would wait another 45 minutes or so for them.

As they sipped on coffee, Lizzy looked to Darcy excitedly. "Oh, I almost forgot. I received an official invitation to Charles's Hallowe'en party. That man loves parties, doesn't he? I chatted with him about it and I'm really looking forward to it. We have to wear costumes, we're not allowed in otherwise."

"Yes, I know," Darcy replied moresely, obviously not as taken up with the idea as his lunch partner.

"Charles said you'd react this way. Come now, Darcy, humour me. Charles has given us a theme - TV characters - so I thought we could dress as a couple ... or is that presumptuous of me," Lizzy added.

"I have a usual costume. If you'd like to find a matching one, I have no objection," Darcy explained calmly. The truth was, he wouldn't be caught dead in a costume. Charles always tried to convince him to lighten up and try something more imaginative, but Darcy would never comply.

Lizzy knew well enough that a usual costume worn by Darcy wouldn't be anything fun, but she asked anyway. "So, what do you usually dress as?"

"I wear a simple black tux. You can decide what kind of costume that is. James Bond, I suppose," he said with a smirk.

She held in her laugh but couldn't help but roll her eyes. She thought she'd use logic to convince him to be more imaginative. "As much as I love to see you in a tux, that wouldn't go with the theme this year. James Bond is movie character."

"Then I'll be a TV character who always wears a tux."

"You're such a spoilsport! Come on, is there any other outfit I could convince you to wear?"

"I'm afraid not."

Lizzy bit her lip as she thought of some way she could convince him to loosen up. She was suddenly inspired.

"What would it take for you to wear... say... a military uniform? Before immediately saying no, just think; it's still a respectable outfit, nothing embarrassing. It's not a pink bunny suit and I have friends who can ensure a perfect fit."

"Elizabeth, I don't think-" Darcy began but was immediately cut off.

"It would be fun, Darcy," she implored, but then decided to switch tactics. She leaned nearer to him, lifted her eyebrows, and whispered as if to hide her secret, "Have I ever told you I have a definite weakness for a man in uniform?"

"That's a fascinating insight into your personality, but I'm not budging," Darcy insisted.

"You don't know how weak I truly am ... my first boyfriend - the one I told you about - was a cadet. So you can only imagine how I'd feel if I saw you dressed as an Air Force major."

Darcy chuckled at the come-on. She made a convincing argument but he wasn't sold ... yet. "So we'll dress up as a military couple? I'm sorry, but seeing you in a military costume is hardly persuasive enough to tempt me."

"Oh, I never said I'd be wearing a military uniform. I get to wear something far sexier," Lizzy said, leaning back in her chair, satisfied with dropping that bit of information.

"And what would you be wearing?" Darcy asked, willingly taking her bait.

"You'll never know unless you agree to the uniform," Lizzy answered and then casually looked at her watch. In a playful voice she added, "My, my, where does the time go?"

With that coy change of subject, Lizzy rose from the table. It truly was time for her to return to work and discovering whether or not he succumbed to her wishes would have to wait. Besides, she had a few days to work on him yet.

Darcy stood and led her to the door, pursing his lips trying to hide his amusement at her attempt to coerce him. He had to admit he was a little curious to see this costume, but she'd probably wear it with or without him in uniform so he figured he'd just show up as always. "I suppose you should be getting back. Quinn is at the door downstairs and will drive you. I am pleased you were able to make it, even though you haven't persuaded me to do what you want."

Lizzy turned to him to give one more kick at the can. "Well, just to let you know, I'll be wearing this costume regardless of yours, and not to be vain, but let me just say that if you thought I looked enticing in my red dress, you ain't seen nothing yet." With a cocky smirk she added, "Oh, and if I show up without a man in a matching outfit... which would be a uniform, I may look like I'm trying to attract attention, and I won't be responsible for the actions of others." She paused. "You were warned."

As narcissistic as that sounded, Darcy knew it was just her attempt to defeat his willpower, but - clever girl - she had used that particular weapon knowing it could foil him - his possessive, jealous nature.

He took her in his arms and eyed her suspiciously. "Are you trying to play me?"

"Of course I am," she replied honestly and perkily, giving him a lingering kiss before adding. "And I'm playing to win."

As much as he wanted to quash her arrogant proclamation, particularly because he hated to lose when he was being challenged, her last argument had triggered visions of her dancing half-naked with other men - a total figment of his imagination, of course, but it did the trick.

"I shouldn't do this ... you might think you'll be able to control my every whim ... it's liable to give you a swelled head... but, alright, if you must, you're free to dress me as a major... but nothing less than a major," he warned.

Lizzy hugged him profusely, a delighted grin upon her face. All her vampy flirtation was swept away by an unaffected sparkle to her eyes and she spoke quite earnestly. "I don't think a military costume is such a hardship. And I think we'll have fun if you get in the spirit. I'm so happy you've come to your senses."

"Lost my senses more like it," Darcy muttered with a roll of his eyes but Lizzy chose to laugh it off. Once again, she'd managed to loosen up his reserve and, to her utter delight, it seemed to be getting easier.

~ * ~

A lunch date of a much less pleasant nature took place the next day. Indeed, both participants were rather surprised it occurred, even though one had initiated it. At a window table in a trendy Japanese fusion restaurant in Ottawa's ByWard Market, Jane sat across from Caroline and exchanged forced pleasantries. She had only agreed to see the woman after she had practically begged. Jane was a forgiving, open-minded sort of person and was willing to listen, even if she was more than wary of what Caroline was really up to. She really had felt sorry for Caroline the day Charles had read her the riot act - not that she hadn't deserve it, but she pitied Caroline's outlook on life and wished there was some way to reform it. Because of the contrite nature of Caroline's invitation, Jane agreed to meet her, even if she was suspicious of anything the woman was going to say.

Some would say she was easier on Caroline than Darcy, but while Jane had been harsh on Darcy, something generally against her nature, she did it because of the way she had perceived he treated Lizzy. Had he done the same to her, she probably would have been kinder. We are often harder on the ones who treat our loved ones badly than the ones who treat ourselves ill.

Caroline had gambled everything on this lunch. She really did need Charles for more reasons than money and she was ready to give the most benevolent motive to Jane in order to enlist her help in convincing Charles to give her another chance. It was true that Charles was pretty much her only family, or at least her only family who'd have anything to do with her, and without him in her life she was bereft of relatives - no one to love her unconditionally. In less than two weeks, she had become incredibly lonely, no one other than Charles had ever put up with her antics unless there was something in it for them.

Of course, there were other less sympathetic reasons she wanted Charles back in the picture and they were more pressing than her familial needs. Money was the obvious one, even more so after the lunch as she needed to make Jane think it wasn't a problem. She also needed his and Darcy's names in her circle of friends. Even if Darcy insisted on temporarily dating The Tart (as Caroline referred to Lizzy in her mind), she needed him for business purposes; she needed the name recognition of Darcy and her brother. It would look horrible if Charles and a long-time family friend failed to show up to the opening of her new business. The press certainly wouldn't miss reporting that detail and if people got wind of it in society before the actual opening, she could easily be ostracized with no one to support her. Her name recognition only went so far, for the most part its worth hung firmly on her brother's reputation.

None of her baser reasons were revealed to Jane, though Jane suspected there was more to Caroline's plea than met the eye. However, even if that were the case, Jane did believe in second chances and family sticking together, particularly then there was so few of them. She told Caroline of her belief that she needed Charles for more reasons than brotherly affection; nonetheless she agreed to be her emissary, taking a cheque written out to Charles as a sign of good faith. She also made it clear that if she dared interfere with either her relationship with Charles, or Lizzy and Darcy's relationship, all support and contact would end.

Caroline insisted to Jane she'd turned over new financial and personal leaves and to prove it, she wanted to pay Charles back and invite them all to her design shop opening, including Lizzy. The cheque wasn't anything near what Charles had dolled out time and again for her, but it was a beginning, and the invitation to Caroline's opening that included her sister actually impressed Jane most. Little did Jane know, Caroline had to scrape together every penny she felt could muster to cover the cheque. She actually hoped Charles never cashed it. However, Jane was right to be impressed about the invitation, for it was the most difficult concession Caroline made at their little tête-à-tête.

When the ladies left each other, each had achieved her goal - Caroline had made inroads to being in good favour with her brother and Jane felt she had helped in reuniting a family, with the condition that Caroline knew they'd be watching her closely.

~ * ~

Lizzy and Darcy managed to remain relatively vertical and clothed for the next few dates. One involved having Charles and Darcy over for dinner at the sisters' apartment. That evening was far purer than any of their recent encounters. Another involved a morning balloon ride - the daylight, the coolness of temperature and other commitments afterwards assisted in their relative chastity.

While Lizzy's resistance was beginning to waiver with each kiss, Darcy was diligent in ensuring he wasn't the one to push the envelope. If Lizzy wanted more, she would have to proclaim it in one manner or another. Unfortunately, Lizzy was waiting for Darcy's impatience to show up so she could admit she was willing and able to go further.

Lizzy's other commitment after the balloon ride consisted of babysitting the Gardiner children to allow her Aunt Madeleine and Uncle Edward a night away. They were off for some couple time at a pretty little inn in the picturesque village of Merrickville, an hour or so outside of Ottawa. Lizzy had offered up her services and gladly took care of the little tykes for her favourite aunt and uncle.

Darcy had asked if he could join her for the evening and she willingly accepted the company. He helped her get the children to bed, and while she tended to the little one with a cold, he read bedtime stories to the other two. They cleaned up the toys once all the children were finally settled, and then proceeded to act like teenagers on the sofa - making out only so far in case a little one made an appearance at the door.

Lizzy revelled in the evening. She was quite comfortable with the knowledge that nothing could go too far and yet Darcy had asked to join her knowing the same thing. Although she was mentally ready for them to be together, she still had an admittedly absurd supposition that once it happened, the magic bubble would burst and she would just be another failed relationship for him. She knew she was being ridiculous but they were getting along so well without sex, she was nervous that it would hinder rather than improve the relationship. Being with him in this setting, she could pretend they'd already accomplished that step and were in the cozy atmosphere of a settled relationship. Not that she wanted to skip that step, but she wanted to skip the dire consequences she held in the back of her mind. For the evening at the Gardiners', she was contented with his passionate kisses and strong arms cuddling her close.

As sexually frustrating as the experience was, Darcy actually enjoyed this innocent time together. He never had to deal with "waiting" in his teenage years or otherwise - women who expressed an interest in him were quite willing to enter into the ultimate physical relationship as soon as he requested, sometimes before. Even though Lizzy had created quite a bit of pent up tension in his body, there was also an anticipation, an excitement that was new to him. People may have thought Darcy liked 'the chase' when wooing a woman, but the truth was, he never really had to chase. So while he kissed and nibbled Lizzy on the sofa, he also snuggled and chatted comfortably. There was still the overlying tremor of sexuality in the air, but an additional sense also entered Darcy's system. He could visualize himself with this woman night after night, not just thinking about running home after work and bedding her, but coming home to a house full of children and cuddling up on the sofa to hear about her day, to talk about their children's progress or to rest silently in each other's company.

~ * ~

Lizzy again found herself primping in front of the mirror for another date with Darcy. This time she was dressed to impress, but not entirely for him. Darcy had invited her to join him for a business dinner with one of his highly successful authors. Eli Levine was a vocal, opinionated, highly intelligent writer from Montreal whose fiction centered on his colourful Jewish neighbourhood in the predominantly French, but highly multi-cultural city. His non-fiction work revolved around his antagonistic views toward the majority French population of the province and their treatment of Jews, Anglophones and other minorities. He was acerbic and grumbly, but the kernels of his arguments were usually quite valid. Darcy generally agreed with the man but kept his opinion to himself as it wasn't a wise business move to provoke controversy. He kept his beliefs in check for debatable issues and when actually supporting a political position, ensured he did so in a less antagonistic manner than Mr. Levine.

Because of this, the two didn't really get along as well as one would expect, however, Eli was promoting a new book and was in town. The dinner was a requirement for appearances sake and when Lizzy mentioned how much she admired the man, Darcy found his method to make his evening more enjoyable.

She was thrilled, if unnerved, by the invitation. Darcy was bringing her into his professional sphere and the thought was quite daunting. This man she was to meet was no smarmy, self-satisfied diplomat who could be charmed by padding his already sizeable ego, this was a sharp-tongued, world-renowned, intellectual heavyweight who did not suffer fools gladly.

She wanted his respect and wanted to look knowledgeable for him... but she still wanted to look attractive for her man. After all, this was still a date, and the more they'd seen of each other, the more inclined she was to let the date linger longer. Who was she kidding? She felt the need to cross her legs just thinking about him these days. Her mounting lust quashed any thoughts of nervousness about their relationship. She was horny, more so than any other time in her life and the only obstacle to getting relief was her own hesitancy. Quinn came around to pick Lizzy up as she wasn't able to join them at Darcy's office due to her work schedule. They met at Juniper, a trendy west end restaurant that had evolved into a well-established Ottawa institution several years ago. It delivered innovative, well-prepared meals and a place to be seen for those who wanted it - perfect for a publisher whose star author was in the midst of a book tour.

When Lizzy made her appearance, it wasn't Darcy who first noticed her, as his back was to the entrance. Eli glanced at her upon the removal of her coat. He'd no idea who she was but her simple little black spaghetti strap cocktail dress allowed him the chance to view a beautiful well-dressed woman, and he never missed out on such a delightful show.

Eli may have been an acerbic curmudgeon most of the time, but he was also a man, and when Lizzy returned his stare with a broad smile, he thought to himself, I've still got it. When she then proceeded to approach the table and extend her arm, he'd thought he'd hit the jackpot.

"Mr. Levine, it's an honour to meet you," she said simply as he rose and shook her hand.

Upon hearing Lizzy's voice, Darcy stood to greet her. His whole face shifted from that of serious businessman to awestruck lover as his eyes focussed on his date. Her sexy red dress may have been a showstopper, but before him was a woman of grace and elegance with a hint of sensuality; a woman who made other men envious when she's seen on your arm. What truly gave Lizzy that extra sparkle was something neither had yet realized - Lizzy had quite simply fallen in love, and the emotion made her glow with an inner happiness.

Darcy finally snapped out of his state of silence, kissed her cheek and made introductions. "Eli, I'd like to introduce you to my dear friend, Elizabeth Bennet," he began.

Lizzy looked up to him, a little hurt by such a non-committal introduction, however, Darcy almost instantly looked down lovingly and added, "The best thing to ever walk into my life."

"I always knew you had more luck than talent, Darcy," Eli replied slyly, then turned to Lizzy. "Pleasure to meet you, Elizabeth."

"Please call me Lizzy," she said with a warm smile. "And forgive me in advance if I sound like a fawning fan tonight. I'm a great admirer of your work - novels and social commentary."

While he was flattered, he doubted the trophy on the arm of Darcy would really be well versed in his forty-year writing career, so again he made a dig at his publisher. "Did you bring me a cheerleader so you wouldn't have to talk much? Maybe you're not so dense after all ... at least she's a looker."

"I assure you, Elizabeth is here because she is interested in your work and to help make my evening more pleasant," Darcy replied, not resisting his opportunity to make Eli know his opinion of the evening.

Though touched by his gallantry, Lizzy didn't need Darcy to defend her. Actually, she wasn't offended by Eli's flippant assessment. She had seen him interviewed many times and knew he could be quite scathing. She made it her goal to thaw his gruff exterior, and by the main course she had done so well that it seemed Eli had forgotten Darcy was sitting at the table with them.

Lizzy's opinions of his work sometimes matched his own and sometimes were damn near offensive to him, but she delivered them all with conviction and knowledge. She could refer to specific chapters of books she liked and why, and critique areas where she thought he'd wandered from his subject matter, weakening his story or argument.

Darcy just stared in wonder at her. Truth be told, he'd tried to have similar conversations with Eli several times over the course of their relationship, but the author had little patience or interest in listening to Darcy. I suppose I'm not pretty enough, Darcy thought; not thinking less of Lizzy's intellect, only of Eli's fickle nature. She truly did know a great deal about the author's work. If Eli was charmed by her, Darcy was mesmerized. He was quite content to let the two continue their dialogue through the meal, just so he could be left to admire her. Lizzy was educated and well spoken, her career had made her a savvy conversationalist, but her ability to discuss some of the intricacies of the literary trade floored Darcy. He was starting to believe Eli's earlier comment - he did have more luck than talent, at least with regard to finding someone like Lizzy. He sat back and realized he couldn't have ordered up a more perfect match. He was a fool to ever deny it.

She had her own life yet she could seamlessly fit into his. Amazingly, she forced him to stretch his own limited social boundaries; she made him have fun whether he wanted to or not, and she made him laugh at himself regularly - no small feat. No one, not even Charles or Richard had ever been able to do that. Above all that, she aroused him to no end. He had never been so mercilessly attracted to a woman. Never was a man so ready to worship a woman's body than he.

As his musing began to wander into the realm of sexuality, so did his hands. He reached over to Lizzy's leg and repeated a manoeuvre that had given him so much satisfaction ages ago. He slid his hand up to her thigh and slipped it under her stocking, stroking her skin and stoking his fires.

Lizzy was totally taken unaware. She had been fulfilling a dream, speaking with one of her favourite authors and passionately discussing the Québec separatist movement. She had very nearly forgotten Darcy's presence but for shy looks his way every now and again to ensure he wasn't upset with her dominating the conversation. Every time she glanced his way, however, he seemed perfectly contented, so his sudden and shocking re-entry into her thoughts had a definite impact on her concentration. His one wicked touch had reminded her of her earlier simmering desires and sent her academic discussion to the back burner. Eli's question put her on the spot. "What do you think, Lizzy?"

I want that man's hands all over me, she thought, as Darcy continued his caress. The truth was, she had no idea what Eli was asking so she thought she'd punish Darcy for his impertinence. She turned to him with a wide smile and said, "Why don't we ask Darcy his opinion. He's been rather quiet this evening." Darcy lifted his brow in amusement for putting him on the spot. He admitted defeat ... partially. "I'm afraid I wasn't keeping track of the latest topic. I was more interested in enjoying," he paused, glancing at Lizzy's widening eyes, "... my dessert."

Eli played dumb, but realized he was finally being put in his proper place - the third wheel. "Well, I'm glad to see where your priorities are, Darcy," he responded with a smirk, glancing over his coffee cup. "Dessert has always been my favourite part of the meal too."

~ * ~

"I can't believe you," Lizzy accused lightly after Eli had been dropped off at his hotel.

"What?" Darcy asked with false incredulity, pursing his lips to stop his smile.

"Oh, don't you even try to look innocent, Mister. I'm having a fascinating discussion about the Québec referendum when I feel your paw on my leg. I'm talking to a legend and you're behaving like a dog in heat." "I think you should congratulate me on holding out until the end of the meal," Darcy said, moving in to nuzzle her neck, obviously unfazed by her accusations.

"I can be a serious woman, you know," she said with a pout as Darcy's tongue began tickling her earlobe.

"Seriously hot," he murmured teasingly, delving into the hollow of her neck.

But something in that cheesy compliment triggered Lizzy's sensibilities. She really was enjoying her discussion with Eli, and she truly did feel her mind was being valued for an interest outside her career.The fact was she prepared for that dinner. Yes, she had followed Eli's writing from the time she began reading his books at age 14, but she wouldn't have been able to discuss the entirety of his career had she not crammed in a review the night before. She had wanted to impress Eli and make Darcy proud, but now he seemed more interested in her body than her mind and that hurt her feelings.

"Slow down, Fitzwilliam," Lizzy said with a little more conviction, even though his kisses weren't exactly unwanted. "I want to talk about this."

"You've talked all night. It's time for other things," he said huskily, unbuttoning her coat. He was not to be deterred and Lizzy's patience was wearing out. Besides, he was ignoring her wishes and she didn't like that feeling in the least. It wasn't like him; it was reminiscent of their night in Charles's parlour. "Stop," Lizzy said forcefully, finally getting Darcy's attention. He immediately pulled back with a questioning look. "What's wrong with you?" she asked, looking quite miffed. "What do you mean? Was I out of line?" "Not entirely, but your timing could be better. You invite me to go to dinner with someone I greatly admire, and then you sabotage my conversation with him by distracting me. Now normally, I enjoy that sort of distraction, but I really didn't think it was appropriate at that time. I thought you invited me because you had enough faith in my intelligence to be a decent dinner partner, not because you could get a little action under the table. Now, when I want to talk about it, you treat me like some kind of floozy. What's your problem?" Lizzy asked, frustrated.

Suddenly Darcy felt like a cad ... and deservedly so. He did invite her for the reasons she stated but part way through the evening, even though he did admire her intellect, he decided to objectify her. To him the reasons were obvious.

"I was jealous," he admitted. "Jealous?" Lizzy huffed. "Not that again! What did I do to make you think you should be jealous? The man is nearly three times my age and I'm totally flipped over you. We've discussed this before. You really need to check your jealousy at the door."

He smiled slightly at her observations, particularly the comment about being flipped over him. He then rubbed his brow as if struggling with what to admit. Finally he enlightened her a little further. "I wasn't jealous of him, I was jealous of you." "Of me? Why?" Lizzy was completely baffled. "It's hard to explain." Seeing the strain on his face, Lizzy softened her approach. "Try me, I'll listen." Darcy really didn't want to admit any of this to Lizzy, but because of his behaviour, he knew she had a right to know. It didn't excuse him, but it was a reason for his reaction. "I greatly admire the man too. He's a literary genius," he began and Lizzy nodded. "I've tried to have the same discussions with him on numerous occasions only to be shot down. Why? He sees me as a privileged ... spoiled ... someone who should know his work because of what I do for a living. My interest and opinions, therefore, aren't important, particularly because I don't publicly throw my support to all his causes. He meets you - a pretty face with a mind and, well, a less privileged upbringing, and he's all ears. Reverse snobbery. So, I suppose I've been subconsciously trying to make myself feel better by objectifying you. Not very mature, is it?"

Lizzy was shocked by Darcy's revelation. She'd never once thought of the possibility that Darcy would be jealous of her on any level. Why would he? He was a man possessed with the innate confidence that comes from being born the eldest in a wealthy family who had also become a success in his own right. Darcy just wasn't someone she'd expect to be envious of anyone. Beyond her surprise at his emotion, she was touched that he was actually admitting this weakness to her. She was about to chastise him for his earlier treatment of her, but thought better of it. She was sure it wasn't easy for him to admit and he did have to endure being ignored for most of the meal. The more she thought about it, the more she wanted to ease his discomfort.

"I suppose your behaviour wasn't on purpose, it was just a gut reaction. I never suspected you were uncomfortable with me dominating the conversation. You had mentioned the two of you didn't click and during the dinner you seemed to appreciate me chatting. It's a shame he treats you that way, he's missing out on a wonderfully insightful mind."

"Elizabeth, don't patronize me. I feel awful as it is."

She took his face in her hands and said firmly, "I am not patronizing you. I'm just saying what's true. He's an old man who's turned on by talking shop with a young woman - there's nothing terribly wrong with that, he's a typical male. What's wrong is his prejudice against you," she paused, waiting for some kind of reaction, but Darcy was mute, so she added, "Will you be okay?"

"I'm fine, Elizabeth. I just wish I hadn't used you to deal with my fragile ego." Darcy was feeling terribly sheepish, first for his actions, then for Lizzy sympathizing with him.

Lizzy decided he'd had enough self-analysis for the evening. It wasn't his problem, it was Eli's. The fact was, as much as he was 'objectifying' her for the wrong reasons, it didn't mean she disliked how he was doing it, so she decided to distract him. "Can Quinn hear or see anything through that panel?" she asked.

"No, why?" he asked with an inquisitive grin.

"Because I wanted to let you know, there's nothing fragile about you, Mr. Darcy," she purred, crossing a stockinged leg over his lap, twining her arms around his neck and bringing his lips to hers. Darcy's worries easily melted away from the heat of Lizzy's attentions.

~ * ~

They were both in much better spirits by the time they arrived at Lizzy's, but as Darcy walked her to the door, he felt he needed to treassure her. "I want you to know I was honoured to have you there tonight. It's not often a man is fortunate enough to have someone in his life who is intelligent, beautiful and confident. Eli better be nice to me for having brought you along." "Somehow I doubt it, but he'll probably be nice to me if we ever meet again," she kidded.

After a quick peck, Lizzy turned to open her door with a thought that the timing might be right. She soon felt his hands resting on her hips as he leaned in to whisper a totally unexpected remark in her ear. "You know, I think someone fell in love tonight."

As she turned the key in the lock, her breath hitched and her stomach quivered, but she willed herself not to jump to conclusions. She remained facing the door and though her insides were a mess, she replied with a little laugh, "I wouldn't go that far. Eli may have been charmed..."

Darcy hadn't moved and his lips gently brushed her skin as he clarified in a deep, earnest whisper. "I wasn't talking about Eli."

The door opened and Lizzy walked inside not daring to turn around. She had placed a hand over one of his, where it had remained on her hip, and led him through. He shut the door behind him and when she finally turned, she was too nervous to look up at him, her eyes bored holes into his chest. She gradually lifted her face to look at his; her eyes, lit only from the streetlight through the window, were sparkling.

She didn't think she'd needed to hear the three little words before making love, and technically she hadn't, but his confession, his willingness to let her see his heart, moved her beyond comparable words. She had been the one to insist on more communication before taking the relationship to a physical level and now she knew she had to be the one to show some force of action.

On her tiptoes, she brought her hands to his face and guided him to meet her, giving him the softest of kisses. In a voice that was barely audible, she asked, "You'll stay, won't you?"

"For as long as you'll let me."

His profession of devotion toppled any possible hesitation she may have been harbouring and before he knew what hit him, Lizzy had assailed him with a steamy, probing kiss. It was urgent and hungry and he could do little but allow her to continue. As her passion unfurled, she pinned him against the door and began to hastily unbutton his coat.

If Darcy had been waiting for a strong indication from Lizzy to move forward, her method was perfectly clear. He followed her lead and reciprocated the favour, neither allowing their lips to part as they frantically discarded their coats into a crumpled heap at their feet.

Their hands began a journey to discover any exposed flesh. Darcy had the advantage but Lizzy wasn't far behind, removing his clothing at a dizzying pace. Soon his suit jacket followed his coat to the floor and she was adeptly loosening his tie when they began to move towards the stairs, still with their lips pressed hotly against the other.

Finally, Darcy began to explore her neck with his mouth, as his hand glided up the curve of her arm to the spaghetti strap at her shoulder, removing the interruption of her smooth silhouette. He moved down her shoulder, then her breastbone, reaching the top of her dress where he inhaled deeply, relishing the feminine scent of her cleavage. He placed gentle kisses on her supple skin but she would only let him be gentle so long. She had a powerful need for him to be with her and she wanted them in the bedroom sooner rather than later.

Pulling him back up to her lips, she began to step backwards towards the stairs. Her hands clutching his curls, her breath laboured, she softly moaned when his hand moved to cup her breast and his thumb began a rhythmic massage of her nipple.

Frantic and focussed, they neared the stairs where Lizzy felt something at her feet a little too late and the two toppled to the floor. This was no deterrence. Now crushed against each other, they continued to pet and paw, desperate for the carnal intimacy they'd been craving for so long.

Timing is everything ... or so the saying goes, and when Lizzy and Darcy fell to the floor, it only took moments before a gravely voice could be heard from above the stairs.

"Lizzy, is that you?"

At the sound of her sister's sleep-filled tone and the sight of a bedroom light being switched on, Lizzy froze. What the hell is she doing here?

Placing a finger to Darcy's lips, Lizzy answered through heavy breaths as calmly as she could muster. "Yes, Jane ... it's me. I just ... I just tripped over something ... my fault for not ... turning on the lights. Sorry to disturb you. Go back to sleep."

"Are you okay?" Jane asked.

Lizzy was terrified of her coming down - not that Jane would be surprised, but still, it wasn't a moment you wanted to share with your sister.

"Just fine. Don't worry. We'll chat in the morning. I'm quite tired," she managed to say without sounding totally winded.

"Okay ... goodnight."

Lizzy leaned into Darcy's ear and whispered, "I'm so sorry. I had no idea she'd be here tonight. I can't imagine why she is here."

Darcy was devastated and worried he'd suffer actual pain due to their abbreviated encounter, but all was not lost as far as he was concerned. "Come home with me."

Lizzy, on the other hand, felt the moment had passed. Whatever dire need she had to bring Darcy to her bed had been pushed aside when she heard her older sister call down to her. Fear of an awkward situation, and a heavy dose of accompanying adrenaline, had gripped her instead. She took a moment to truly catch her breath and calm her heart from the double-whammy of near-sexual fulfillment and absolute terror. She then kissed Darcy's forehead lightly and shook her head. "I don't think so. It's getting late and we do actually have to work tomorrow. Why don't we wait for a time when there are no interruptions?"

The proud, confident Darcy was near tears due to frustration and simple horniness. He would not be satisfied this evening and he was getting desperate. However, he had vowed not to push her, to let her be the one to decide where and when, and obviously the where and when wasn't going to be here and now. He nodded in agreement, not trusting himself to speak.

Lizzy's eyes shone with gratefulness and the two cautiously rose, careful not to disturb anything, most of all, Jane. Receiving a look so warm and appreciative, Darcy couldn't be perturbed with Lizzy's decision for long. It wasn't in his heart to deny her anything, even if she was quite obviously denying him.

Lizzy noticed she'd tripped over Jane's attaché case and rolled her eyes. How appropriate. However, she was dying to know why Jane was at the apartment ... she couldn't imagine she and Charles arguing again. They had been nothing short of sickening since they'd reunited.

Darcy collected his belongings which were strewn on the floor, but could not resist stopping here and there to place kisses on Lizzy's body ... sometimes her lips, sometimes a bare shoulder or arm, and as he bent to put on his shoes, he managed to nibble at her thigh, forcing Lizzy to withhold a shriek of laughter.

When he rose, she wrapped her arms around him appreciatively and whispered, "I'm so glad you're not disappointed or angry with me."

"I'm not angry, but I wouldn't say I'm not disappointed," Darcy clarified.

"We'll get there ... it's just, well, Jane sort of ruined the mood for me," Lizzy explained. "And well ... I'd like it to happen naturally. I mean, if we drove to your house now, it would just seem so ... planned. I'd have all that time to think about it and I'd get nervous. Do you know what I mean?"

"Well, I could keep you occupied in the car," Darcy said with a slight grin, tenderly twining a tendril of Lizzy's hair, "but I understand, and as I've been saying all along, I won't force you."

Standing by the door, Lizzy prolonged his departure with a generous amount of slow, delicate kisses. Finally, Darcy pulled away; wanting and needing to be the one to do so lest he get carried away. His voice was raspy, his willpower was waning, but he managed to say, "It's bedtime, my dear. I think we better break this little party up or we'll be here all night."

Lizzy looked at his smoldering eyes and was gratified by his gentlemanly gesture. She knew it was hard for him to be the one to stop. "You're right, of course, but it doesn't make it any easier."

"Yes, but I think Quinn will be happy to see me," Darcy said, trying to change the conversation to a neutral subject.

"Quinn! Oh my god, what will he think? Is he still there?" Lizzy asked, worried about both his comfort and the stories he could tell.

"Luckily, we haven't reached the half-hour mark. I told him if I was longer he had permission to leave and I'd find a way home."

"You're quite the pro at this," Lizzy said, an arm on her hip, a little jealousy of her own beginning to show.

"Not at all," Darcy replied smoothly. "Just hopeful. Goodnight, my lovely Elizabeth." He leaned down to give one last chaste kiss as he opened the door.

"Goodnight," she replied dreamily when he'd pulled away. She watched him walk to the car and in fact kept watching until it was out of sight. Yes, Darcy, she thought wistfully as she leaned against her door, Someone did fall in love tonight.

Chapter XIV, Part I

Lizzy woke to the sound of the shower running. She would have also woken to the aroma of coffee had her sinuses not been clogged. She wracked her brain trying to think of where she would have picked up a cold, when she remembered babysitting a very sniffly Christina Gardiner three days prior. She smiled thinking of that night, watching Darcy play with the little ones had been adorable.

By the time she picked herself up out of bed, Jane was in the kitchen. The elder sister looked terribly contrite and immediately asked, "Did I interrupt something last night?"

"How ... how did you know?" Lizzy asked back, beginning to blush.

"After I turned out the light ... well, you weren't as quiet as you think."

"Oh," Lizzy said with a sniff. Her nose was beginning to get itchy. "What are you doing here anyway? You and Charles aren't fighting, are you?"

"No, silly!" Jane answered, shocked at the thought. "I'm speaking at a dental association breakfast this morning and it's early so I thought I'd stay here instead of driving through rush hour traffic from Charles's."

"Oh," Lizzy replied again, sounding very stuffed up. "Can you maybe let me know a little in advance next time?"

Jane smiled knowingly at her sister's question and nodded. "Of course. Sorry for not giving you a warning. By the way, you sound sick."

"I think I'm getting there."

"Well, I'm sure Darcy will take good care of you." Jane smiled as she headed for the door. "I made coffee for you. Enjoy and take care of yourself."

Darcy would have taken good care of Lizzy had she let him. She ended up being out of commission for the rest of the week and wouldn't let him near her. She didn't want him to come down with something just as she was recovering. It would only delay their next ... encounter.

He listened to her sage advice, but each day a delivery of some sort was sure to arrive; one day Mrs. Reynolds's chicken soup, on another, a care package with all the appropriate cold medications including the softest of tissues for her nose. Of course, every delivery included a hand-written note from the man telling her how desperately he missed her and how he wanted to tend to her needs. He behaved as the perfect suitor should and she overdosed on vitamin C trying to recover for the weekend so they could continue where they were so rudely interrupted.

As much as he'd like her to believe all his intentions were chivalrous, Darcy knew in his heart there was one main reason he wanted her healthy. Neither a day nor a night had gone by in months where he hadn't thought of her, but now ... when all his fantasies were so near to becoming reality, he was rattled to the point of insanity. If Jane hadn't been there ... well, there was no use dwelling on it, he had thought repeatedly since he drove home after their date. In fact, it was all he thought about, so much so his concentration at work was suffering, not to mention his manners to his staff at home. He would be discussing a contract with an author's agent when out of nowhere he would have a vision of her lithe skin under his hands or the voluptuous contour of her breast at his lips. He'd be discussing a household repair requirement with Mrs. Reynolds and he'd begin to imagine Lizzy waiting for him upstairs on his bed in nothing but stockings and garters. He was obsessing and he had no means of stopping himself. He wanted nothing more than to be crushed against her again, feeling the heat of her body against his, but at the moment, even seeing her was out of the question. Lizzy was wisely keeping him away. He knew their time would come ... he just hoped it would be soon or all his functioning senses would begin to deteriorate under the strain of unfulfilled gratification.

The vitamin C did little good for Lizzy's recovery (she vowed to begin taking it on a regular basis instead). However, she was almost fully fit on Saturday and eager to see Darcy, so they made plans to spend Sunday together. But Sunday morning arrived ... and so did something else. Lizzy cursed whatever stars she was born under. She had completely forgotten the bane of female existence had inconveniently scheduled a visit at the most inopportune time of her life.

What did she ever do to deserve this, and how was she to deal with Darcy? How do you explain to a man whom you nearly slept with that ... oops, could we wait, just because? There are no known obstacles in our way, Jane is safely ensconced at Charles's, we have the whole day to ourselves, but I just don't want to. She'd be surprised if her dear Fitzwilliam Darcy didn't drop her for being the biggest tease on the face of the planet.

However, she couldn't possibly explain; it was better if she could just put him off until Charles's Hallowe'en party, but how could she do that when he called several times a day to check up on her health and to confirm their plans? She regrettably decided to pull out another little white lie ... she knew Darcy wouldn't be impressed if he ever found out, but there was no way she was gong to discuss her period with him ... heck, with any man, so early in a relationship. What other alternative do I have?

With great trepidation, she dialed his number for the dreaded conversation.

"Hello?"

"Hello Darcy," she said with her best impression of a raspy voice.

"Elizabeth?"

"Yes, it's me. I'm afraid I have some ... bad news," she replied, getting straight to the point and coughing for good measure.

"What's wrong?"

"It seems ... I'm ... I might be suffering a relapse." She tried her best to sound convincing, but the words got stuck in her throat and sounded choppy.

"You're joking." "I wish I was," she said with a sniff. She prayed that was enough to convince him.

"Well, if it's a relapse, it's not contagious. At least I can come see you. I'll take very good care of you, you know," Darcy replied, not deterred in the least.

"No!" Lizzy practically shouted with fright. "I ... I mean ... it might be a relapse, but it could also be another strain of cold. I'm not sure at this point so I think it would be best if we wait another couple of days until we see each other."

Darcy couldn't decide whether to be worried for Lizzy or suspicious. Was she just nervous after they had been so close the other night? "Are you sure that's all that's wrong? Perhaps it's something more serious," he asked.

"Oh, I'm sure I'll be fine in a couple of days, if not, I'll go to the doctor's," Lizzy assured him, but it didn't quash Darcy's suspicions and he decided to confront his worries.

"Are you avoiding me?"

"No! Of course not. Why would I want to avoid you?" Lizzy asked back, almost too quickly.

"Because I haven't seen you in four days and you're trying to make it six."

"I'm not trying to make it six, I'm just trying to get better," she answered defensively.

"Well, I hate to be doubtful, but your hoarse voice, your sniffles and your cough have miraculously disappeared since the beginning of our conversation, and I'd appreciate if you'd just admit why you don't want to see me," he stated, offended by her attempt to fool him, but also terrified to find out the reason why. Had he scared her off with his profession of love? Had she remembered him saying he'd never been in love before? Was she afraid of that kind of commitment? A million questions and possibilities ran through his head as he waited for her to answer.

Lizzy bit her lip. She was so capable of smoothing over issues at work, giving compliments to avoid awkward situations, she was also a pro at keeping things from her mother, but where Darcy was concerned, she couldn't even keep up the semblance of a cold for the extent of one telephone conversation. She decided to be relatively honest with him. "I've come down with something else. I'd just rather you wouldn't come over yet."

He decided he was overreacting and he'd just convince her she needed him there. "Elizabeth, there's no reason to hide anything from me and no reason to avoid me. I'm quite healthy ... and besides, I have excellent bedside manners."

"I'm sure you do, but there's not much you can do to help me, so you being here wouldn't do me any good."

Darcy was getting ticked, his patience was wearing thin and he didn't understand Lizzy's hesitancy. "Is this something I should be worried about or is it something as trifling as a cold sore and your vanity won't allow me to see it?" he asked in a clipped tone. He didn't want to sound bitter, but he just couldn't help himself.

"You think I'm that vain!" she cried, wishing the conversation could just end. She was worried that keeping her 'condition' private would result in a fight ... one that wasn't necessary.

"So, is it something serious then?" He continued to push.

"No, but ... can't you just trust me on this? I'd rather we wait to see each other."

"Elizabeth, when I gave you sketchy answers about George Wickham, you categorically told me that wasn't enough information. Now, you're doing the same thing and it's about your health. I don't appreciate it. If you're avoiding me for some reason, admit it. If you're afraid I'll try to jump you while you're not in the best of health, well I'm rather offended. I just want to see you."

Lizzy grew frustrated with his agitation. She didn't blame him but he just wouldn't let her off the hook. "Well, you never really gave me a definite answer about George, but that's another issue. Besides, it's not you, it's me. I wouldn't be very good company, that's all."

Darcy had lost his patience. He had come to the conclusion that after their latest intimate moment she must have decided she no longer wanted him. He was being unreasonable, of course, but when in love, one doesn't always think rationally.

"Damn it, Elizabeth. If you don't want me in your life, just tell me so."

Lizzy was stunned by his anger and his ludicrous conclusion jumping. In her present state, it only aggravated her more. She could no longer hold her tongue. "Okay, Fitzwilliam. I'll level with you. I'm bloated, I'm bitchy and all I want to do is shovel Ben and Jerry's down my throat. You have a sister ... figure it out."

"Oh," was all she heard on the other end of the phone line for a few moments. She wasn't going to break the silence - he had asked for it and quite frankly she was a wee bit irked and uncomfortable for having revealed that information. Finally Darcy spoke. "Elizabeth, there was no need to hide that from me, but I understand. Nevertheless, if my options are not seeing you at all and seeing you shovel down ice cream, I'd pick the latter every time."

It was Lizzy's turn to be speechless. "Oh," she said a bit shakily.

"Did I say something wrong?" Darcy asked a bit confused by her reaction.

"That's just the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to me," she replied rather emotionally.

"If that's the sweetest thing, I take it your hormones are out of whack too," Darcy surmised.

"As a matter of fact..." she said with a shaky laugh. "Are you sure you still want to come?"

"Of course."

"Just don't expect me to pretty myself up for you ... and don't expect me to be my usual cheerful self."

"I gathered that from this telephone conversation," Darcy replied pointedly.

"Ouch," Lizzy said with a strong laugh. "You give an adorable compliment and then you follow it up with scathing criticism. Thanks."

"I only give both when they're deserved," Darcy retorted, but then softened. "And criticism is an irregular occurrence when it comes to you."

"Ah, and with that final reply you redeemed yourself. Come as soon as you can. I've missed you."

Darcy showed up at her doorstep an hour later with two litres of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey and a few DVDs. He made her lie down in the living room while he scooped out two bowls of ice cream against protests from Lizzy that they just eat it from the container.

"We must have some decorum, Elizabeth," Darcy said with a wink.

"So how do you know I'll want to watch what you brought?" she asked as he placed a disk in the DVD player.

"It's from Georgie's favourite stash. She keeps copies here and at school. She often watches this when..." he hesitated and chose his words carefully, "... when she's feeling bloated."

"Ah." Lizzy smiled at his discomfort and his thoughtfulness. "So... what's the movie?"

"It's actually a mini-series. Anne of Green Gables." "Darcy! Really? I keep meaning to buy it but I'm always forgetting. It's one of my favourites too."

"You wouldn't be a good Canadian girl if it wasn't," Darcy pointed out.

"I suppose your company has the publishing rights to the book," Lizzy countered.

"Of course."

"Why am I not surprised?" she asked rhetorically, rolling her eyes.

In no time, Lizzy was enthralled with the movie and Darcy played the part of the dotting boyfriend by holding her when she cried over the puffed sleeves scene*, Matthew's death, and Gilbert and Anne's reunion at the end.

She turned to Darcy when the credits were rolling. "Anne and Gilbert - such a sweet romance. I mean, he made that big blunder when they first met and she didn't want to let him live it down, but he stuck around and never gave up. She was so stubborn though! She missed out on all that time with her one true love. He knew she was the only one for him. His perseverance finally paid off."

Darcy smiled knowingly. "I think he's my hero."

Lizzy tossed a pillow at him for his cheekiness but then promptly kissed him for the exact same reason.

~ * ~

Lizzy continued to allow Darcy to visit for the next couple of evenings but he was beginning to think he should have let her keep him at bay. They made an unspoken pact to remain relatively platonic rather than tempt fate and themselves. However, the more time they spent together, the more Darcy visualized her in compromising positions. She'd run down the stairs in a t-shirt and shorts and he ogled her legs. She bent over to pick something up in her robe and he tried to look down her top. It was ridiculous and he was disgusted with himself but he couldn't stop. She was just so damn desirable ... and sexy ... and so close, but unavailable. Three days seemed interminable, but Lizzy subtly explained that relations between them might just prove fruitful by that time; the night of the Hallowe'en party. Good thing too, Darcy had reached his boiling point. In penitence for his naughty behaviour, he cuddled, caressed and massaged Lizzy to the point where even he admitted he was spoiling her. She never had such a wonderful time during her monthly menace.

Lizzy wasn't any more patient. Having Darcy around was doing nothing for her self-control. She unconsciously tested the limits of his and her own restraint by touching him a little more than necessary. She would 'accidentally' brush by him in the kitchen when he was fixing himself a coffee, their bodies almost igniting with the contact; she would bend to pick up her slipper so she could check out his cute butt, and she would kiss him to thank him for his kindness, intending to be innocent so as to not incite him, but somehow her tongue always managed to brush his lip. They were driving each other down a short road to bedlam and whether it was by design or by convenient scheduling, Darcy was busy on the last night before the Hallowe'en party. His board members were flying into town for an evening meeting and he wouldn't be able to join Lizzy. Somehow, they were both relieved.

His absence on the last night gave her the opportunity to ponder her limited love life and how it was to change rather imminently. Her mother wasn't the only person who'd wondered why she hadn't been involved with more men, particularly when there was such an abundance in her field of work. They wondered why a 'pretty girl like her' had never played the field more.

She enjoyed the company of men on a casual basis, but often found people jumped into bed at the first sign of attraction. She had truly cared for the young men with whom she'd been intimate. She and her first boyfriend had dated for quite some time and in fact, they still kept in touch. Her second relationship also ended fairly amicably. She had become involved with these two because of common interests. She met her high school sweetheart in the International Affairs Club and their shared excitement for the topic led to their relationship. Her second boyfriend was studying the same major and their attraction was as much cerebral as physical. In both instances, the physical attraction was secondary and she never expected otherwise. In her opinion, physical passion was fleeting so a love based on an instant attraction had to be flawed. For years, her studies and then her work were her priority; romance was something that would happen eventually, she was in no hurry. After all, she was still only 24.

With Darcy, her theory was thrown upside down and backwards. The first time she'd laid eyes on him, she'd been blown away by his physical features. He was incredibly handsome, everything she would define as such. As much as she wanted to believe she saved Darcy from Caroline that first night for Jane's interests, she knew it had more to do with her desire to be near him; to touch this man who had such presence and such power over her.

By making the mistake of thinking it was just physical, she almost convinced herself into a meaningless fling, but luckily they'd never been open to it at the same time. He had then repeatedly insulted and doubted her, and while she would have usually walked away from such treatment, she kept hoping his opinion of her would change. When it finally did, or at least when his true opinion became clear, that's when the scary part began.

They had opened up to each other, had been forthcoming with their pasts and their insecurities; he had even admitted to falling in love and he'd never been in love before! She couldn't help but realize the depth of meaning to those words and what that could mean for her future. She was now looking forward to being with him in every sense, in an adult relationship with a mature man who loved her and whom she loved in return.

With those emotions so secure in her heart, her fears about 'measuring up' to his past lovers were dwindling. They still hadn't completely dissipated but her trust in him and his feelings for her soothed her worries. Besides, her need for him was now so strong, she felt the sheer force of her desire would overcome any limitations in her proficiency. She was also certain he'd be more than willing to help her along the way.

~ * ~

"The door's open, come on in. I'll be down in a sec," Lizzy shouted down to Darcy from an upstairs window, closing it firmly as the first signs of winter were apparent with the scattering of snowflakes. She was dying to see his reaction to her costume and with him being early she had the chance to present herself by gliding alluringly down the stairs. That was her ideal, however, she was so eager to see him, her body nearly bursting in anticipation for the evening to unfold, she rushed down the stairs like a kid at Christmas. She managed to stop in the living room while he was still at the door.

There before him stood a male fantasy dressed in red and pink confection. She was Jeannie ... as in I Dream of Jeannie and suddenly his costume began to make sense. But what was she trying to do to him? Did she really expect him to last fifteen minutes at Charles's party when all that covered her was the equivalent of a bikini, a tiny red bolero jacket and some flimsy pink chiffon? In his opinion, which was somewhat prejudiced, what she wore was more of a bedroom role-play outfit, not something to be seen by a boatload of wild partygoers ... particularly male partygoers.

"We're not going," he stated definitively.

"Why?" she asked, worried something was wrong as the look on his face spoke of a severe problem.

He walked toward her with a determined stride and explained, "You walk down those stairs looking like you do and you expect me to go to a party? There's no way you're getting me out of here until tomorrow morning."

Lizzy stretched out her arm reminiscent of a Diana Ross and the Supremes move. She shook her head and the blonde ponytail of her wig swung with her. "Stop! Don't you dare come any closer if you intend to try to seduce me in any way, Fitzwilliam Darcy. We are going to this party. It's your best friend and my sister who are throwing this shindig ... we cannot get out of it. As much as I want you right now - and I do, don't doubt it - you are not going to convince me to forget our obligation. We are going and we will have fun. That's an order."

"I thought I was the one in the military uniform," he said with a smirk, and then added, "Hey, aren't you my genie? Aren't you supposed to obey my wishes?"

"Only in your dreams, sweetie, only in your dreams..." She winked at him and patted his cheek before walking away to put on her coat. If Darcy thought she was an amazingly controlled woman, he was only partly right. It took the full extent of her willpower to move away from him. She was dying to kiss him soundly, dying to remove his coat, dying to be pressed against his naked flesh, dying to feel him inside her, but she knew their friends expected them. Waiting three or four more hours wouldn't hurt, would it?

* For those of you not familiar with Anne of Green Gables, it's the story of a young orphan who is adopted by an older brother (Matthew) and sister farmowners. One of her dreams is to have a puffed sleeved dress. There's a very touching scene in the film when Matthew buys her one. Makes me cry every time!

Chapter XIV, Part II

As they arrived at Netherfield for the party, Lizzy was happy she'd come after all. Charles had done a bang-up job in the decorations department and Netherfield had the look of a truly spooky house, particularly inside. Not only that, but from the sound of it, the DJ was awesome and Lizzy had been cooped up in her apartment too long. She longed to dance and was ready to shake some serious booty. She had decided to take the next day off, to allow for sleeping in after what she expected to be a very long, strenuous night.

When Darcy removed his coat, Lizzy began to doubt her decision to have him dress as astronaut Tony Nelson. Darcy as a military major was a magnetic force, his broad shoulders looking doubly so in the distinguishing outfit. Lizzy even believed Darcy in a tuxedo placed second to Darcy in uniform.

Against her better judgment, which had vanished upon fixing her eyes on the way the cut of his jacket accentuated his well-kept physique, she sauntered up to him, eyeing him from head to toe. Her hands had a mind of their own and desperately needed to caress his chest. As she felt him up, she finally admitted what she'd been keeping from him since they'd left her townhouse. "You know ... you don't listen enough. The other day, when I told you I had a weakness for men in uniform, I meant it. If you had removed your coat at my place ... we would definitely still be there."

Darcy inhaled deeply while his head flung backwards in vexation. "Lizzy, don't tell me these things." His voice was deep, dark and full of anxiety and she couldn't help but notice he'd used her less formal name. The last time he'd done that, he was in the midst of disrobing her. To hear him use it now made her insides quiver.

"Just keep it in mind for the future," she said in a whisper, her voice not fully functional when the memories flooding her mind were of his lips and hands on intimate parts of her body.

Trying to recover from the tingling sensations zipping though her body, she absently adjusted the shoulders of his jacket. Her thoughts strayed to the one thing that could dampen her mood and would keep her night from being perfect. "Come; let's have some fun, even though we know Caroline is lurking somewhere. My dear Jane is a wonderful woman, but far too forgiving."

"You had to remind me," Darcy said glumly, his shoulders slumping momentarily, but with a smile, he added, "Can't you just blink her away?"

"Alas, the magical powers aren't included with the costume," Lizzy replied, an apologetic look on her face.

In spite of Darcy's reluctance to enter the party, Lizzy took his hand and virtually dragged him into the ballroom. The lights were dimmed, but bright enough to allow her to spot Charles and Jane quickly; only because she knew they were dressed as Gomez and Morticia Addams.

"Jane! You look fabulous! Who knew goth was really your style," Lizzy kidded as she approached the happy couple.

Jane laughed at her sister and looked down at her ghoulish garb. "Charles had to talk me into it, you know."

"Who's this Charles, Cara Mia?" the man in question asked in a perfect Gomez Addams accent, then bent to nibble loudly on Jane's hand.

"Gomez," Lizzy began in mock-seriousness. "Wonderful party. I must get your decorator's name."

As they joked and exchanged compliments on their costumes, a bold Caroline walked directly into their happy group. The smiles all drifted away, but she would not be deterred. "Charles, Jane ... what an outstanding job you've done. This is quite the entertaining event." She turned to speak to Darcy; her voice literally lowered an octave and took on a smoky quality. "Darcy, it's wonderful to see you again."

Darcy could only cough ... and nod.

"Elizabeth," she added curtly.

Lizzy was generally a well-tempered young woman, but every now and then someone affected her like poison ivy, and she wanted to scratch back. "Caroline, what an interesting costume you've chosen for the evening," she began innocently enough.

"Uh ... why thank you. It's actually one of my own gowns," Caroline replied, surprised.

"So you're Miss America? How bold. A shame there isn't a man here tonight in a tuxedo. He could be your match. Who was it who sang to them years ago? Bert Parks?"

"Yes, a shame," Caroline said through gritted teeth.

"By the way, do you like Darcy's costume? He wore it just for me." Lizzy gave her final dig with a bright smile, knowing perfectly well why Caroline had chosen her outfit.

Darcy was never so happy to have been convinced of something he had dreaded. He'd have to remember to thank Lizzy profusely, in his own way, later in the evening.

Though Caroline didn't want to answer Lizzy's impertinent question, there was no way she'd miss an opportunity to compliment Darcy. "Of course, Darcy would look handsome in whatever he wore."

Charles and Jane had to excuse themselves to greet other guests but that didn't stop the glamourous Miss Bingley from unwisely lingering with the two new lovebirds. She wanted some kind of revenge.

"Elizabeth, I meant to ask you, how did you enjoy your date with George Wickham? Did you two get along well?"

Lizzy felt Darcy stiffen at the reference and she lightly stroked his back to try to soothe his discomfort. She knew he wasn't upset with her, but with Caroline for bringing it up.

"Wouldn't have thought you'd be interested, Caroline, but since you've asked, I enjoyed the concert, but was disappointed with the company."

"I suppose buying Darcy was the better deal," Caroline said somewhat snarkily as if that were the only reason the two were together.

"Definitely," Lizzy replied, not feeling the need to reveal a thing. She just wanted Caroline to go away.

Miss America could see she wasn't getting anywhere with this line of questioning so she changed tactics. "This is quite the party Charles and Jane organized. It seems so very high school with its quaint decorations and raucous music. I wonder if high school was their theme? Oh, and Lizzy, I almost forgot to remark on your costume. It's quite provocative. But I suppose all the boys here will enjoy it."

"Provocative? Maybe a little," Lizzy replied with a sweet smile. She didn't really feel the need to get into a match of insults for the entire evening with Charles's sister so she resolved to speak honestly. She turned to Darcy (to whom she was certain Caroline's remark was intended), and said leadingly, "There's only one man who I care about liking my costume."

Before Caroline could find a suitable retort, Darcy replied back flirtatiously to Lizzy, "Your Master?" "Don't you start up with that again!" she said, laughing and hip-checking him affectionately.

"I wasn't the one who chose the costumes. The responsibility for my actions in this uniform lies with you." Upon the word 'you', he lovingly touched the tip of her nose with his index finger and wrapped his other arm around her waist. She laughed and moved to kiss his cheek after quickly whispering something in his ear. He smiled all the more.

Caroline had intended to point out to Darcy, Lizzy's common and cheap appearance, and remind him of her involvement with a man he hated. However, the very circumstance which had been designed to turn his thoughts against Lizzy, seemed to have fixed them on her more and more cheerfully.

Jane and Charles saved Caroline from further distress by approaching with a large party of friends. Henry Crawford was back in town for the party and had brought his sister Mary, who lived in the city. Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price were with them, although Fanny looked rather ill at ease with the situation and Edmund seemed oblivious to her emotions.

Introductions were made, with Mary and Henry both giving Lizzy the once over; Mary sizing up what she saw as competition, Henry appreciating the fact Lizzy's midriff was showing. Lizzy had to laugh when she saw Henry's costume and quickly asked, "And Henry, who are you dressed as this evening?"

"Why Remington Steele, of course," he said adjusting the bow tie on his tux and giving a dashing grin.

"I see, well, I think he and Caroline would make a very handsome couple, don't you Darcy?" Lizzy felt quite vindicated for persuading Darcy not to wear a tux.

"Remington Steele? Wasn't that Pierce Brosnan before he was Bond?" Darcy asked, momentarily disappointed he hadn't thought of that character when Lizzy had been pressuring him; a timely, discreet bottom squeeze by Lizzy reminded him he was quite content to be Major Nelson.

Soon the group included Richard and Charlotte (or Batman and Catwoman), as well as a few more of Charles's friends who were already acquainted with Lizzy and Jane from the dinner party earlier in the year. They were chatting amiably, but Lizzy was restless. She longed to boogie and the thumping beat was calling to her.

"Darcy, come and dance," she urged, grabbing his hand and beginning to head to the dance floor already swaying her hips - that is, until she noticed he wasn't budging.

"What's up?" she said, turning to face him.

"I don't dance to fast songs, Elizabeth," he replied resolutely.

"You're kidding," Lizzy answered disbelievingly, not impressed at all by his answer.

"I'm afraid you'll have to wait until they decide to play something a little more relaxed," Darcy stated, seemingly unconcerned with Lizzy's desire to dance.

"Now you are kidding," Lizzy retorted.

Darcy looked at her in all seriousness. "No, Elizabeth, I'm not kidding. Let's just wait for something a little slower."

Lizzy looked at him as if he had three heads, then turned to Charles, a bit perturbed by Darcy's imperious attitude. "Charles, care to dance?"

Charles looked to Darcy with a knowing grin ... Darcy was a fool to assume Lizzy would stand next to him like a submissive mannequin. "Of course. Too bad it's not a swing dance. I'll reserve one for you later, since we know Darcy won't be your partner."

Darcy immediately realized he'd inserted his foot back into his mouth after weeks without it being lodged there. He should never have assumed she would just wait for him. She enjoyed a party far too much and she probably would only dance with Charles, and maybe Richard....

No sooner were Charles and Lizzy out of earshot when she spouted off. "You know, I start to think he's evolved and then he does something so caveman-like and it just gets my back up. So now, I'll be dragging you and Jane up here all night, but you'll be busy attending to guests, so I'll hardly get to dance at all. I thought he was loosening up, but my God, Charles, how have you handled him all your life?"

"Not half as well as you have," Charles said, laughing, but a little worried with Lizzy's assumption. As much as he liked her, he'd rather dance solely with Jane, so a practical joke formed in his head. When he returned to his guests, he flitted about to a few of Darcy's friends and they gladly complied with his proposal to get Darcy unglued.

An hour later, Darcy was silently steaming. There hadn't been any slow songs and Lizzy had rarely been anywhere near him. However, it wasn't her fault. Every time she came towards him, one of his 'friends' cut her off at the pass and requested her presence on the dance floor. One by one, they interfered in Darcy's pleasant evening. Richard, Henry, Edward, Edmund, and even Chris had taken Lizzy for a turn. Nothing amused these men more than to see Darcy flustered.

Darcy knew Lizzy wasn't to blame; in fact, she had given him many a beseeching glance. She wished he'd just cut in, realizing how foolish his self-imposed no fast dancing rule was.

Although there wasn't much contact, Darcy watched as each man leaned in to chat with her at different points; he noticed Edmund staring at a certain part of her anatomy when she wasn't looking, and Henry, not surprisingly, took every opportunity to touch her. Thank God it was Charles with whom she was swing dancing because she bounced far too much for his liking ... well, he'd like it, if it were in the privacy of his bedroom.

While Darcy fumed, Lizzy was getting agitated as well. She could hardly say no to his friends' requests and besides, they were harmless. It was also a perfect opportunity to show him that he couldn't demand she sit still just because he wanted to. Although she started off enjoying herself, they just kept pulling her back up to dance. She was missing Darcy and she didn't want to have a disagreement tonight of all nights. Caroline noticed her presumption that Lizzy would receive attention from 'the boys' had been correct. She couldn't believe Darcy would put up with Lizzy's blatant flirtations. She strode over to him, sceptre and tiara in tow, and said, "Elizabeth looks to be enjoying herself. What agonies you must be suffering. Your darling little girlfriend has abandoned you. Like the auctioneer noted the night she bought you and Wickham; one man just isn't enough for her. I know you think I'm a jealous ex but just look at her - a woman like that, who obviously enjoys the attention of other men; well, I just hope you use protection with her."

Caroline had no idea how much ire she had incited in Darcy by her words. "Caroline, Charles and Jane may have agreed to give you a second chance, but I've done nothing of the sort. I do not want your unsolicited opinions regarding my love life and I will not tolerate insults, veiled or otherwise, regarding Elizabeth. She is more respectable and far more moral than you could ever comprehend."

He then walked away, and Caroline was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what only gave her pain. Lizzy finally broke free of the steady stream of Darcy's friends. She pried the scheme out of Edmund after she could tell he felt guilty for checking her out. She saw Darcy's disgruntled face as he walked away from Caroline and was beginning to regret ever attending the party. They were not spending much time together and Darcy's mood was obviously darkening. She decided some major ego soothing was in order, so she walked up behind him and wrapped her arms around his chest.

He practically tore himself away from her as he turned, but there was immediate regret on his face. "I thought you were Caroline."

"Thanks a lot," Lizzy said with her hands on her hips. "Shall I go beat her up? I need to protect my man."

Darcy smiled for the first time in about an hour. For a moment, he had an image of Lizzy in her pink chiffon genie costume in fisticuffs with Caroline and her sceptre. He felt Lizzy would easily take her. "I was able to rid myself of her."

"I don't know if you'll ever be rid of her," Lizzy said sardonically, but with a sympathetic gaze she added, "Are you okay, otherwise? You know what your friends were doing, don't you?"

"What do you mean?"

Lizzy explained the strategy to tick Darcy off, and by the time she'd finished a few of them had approached him to tease him about his stern looks and brooding nature. They were quickly scared off by Darcy's none-too-amused reaction, but to see Darcy flustered had been worth his wrath.

There was no way Darcy was going to let Lizzy out of his arms again that night after that little game. As the last of his friends scurried away, he was relieved when she turned to him to say, "I think we can politely leave in about a half-hour. I think I've had my fill of fast dancing and I don't know if we'll get a slow one tonight."

Darcy took her statement seriously, leaving the room to phone Quinn asking if he could be at the door in fifteen minutes ... just in case. Quinn had actually been surprised his employer had stuck around the party so long. He'd been waiting for the call and would be at the door within five. Nothing pleased Darcy more and he headed back to Lizzy.

No sooner had he reentered the ballroom than Lizzy's ears perked up to a familiar beat. "Oh, take back what I just said. We have to dance to this ... it's like my theme song for the night."

As Genie in a Bottle began to play in the background, Darcy was unswayed. "There is no way I'm dancing to this pop drivel sung by a young woman who prances around half-naked for the sole purpose of turning on hormonally charged teenage boys."

Lizzy started at his vehement refusal and then laughed. "Gosh, don't hold back. Lighten up Fitzwilliam, it's just a naughty little pop song that's fun to dance to. And hey, for someone who doesn't like pop drivel, why do you know so much about Christina Aguilera and her clothing choices?"

"A man has his priorities," he said sheepishly.

"Sometimes I think you have a one-track mind," Lizzy said looking towards the heavens in mock disbelief.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you that about men?" he said, grinning.

"Come on, Fitzwilliam, you have to dance with me. Our costumes demand it," she paused and then whispered wickedly in his ear. "Besides, I'll rub against you."

"Nice try, Elizabeth. You never give up, I'll give you that, but at some point, you're going to have to admit defeat."

"Admit defeat? Never!"

She then looked down at her costume, thought about the possibilities of the night to come and felt she had a proper bribe. She pressed herself against him and snaked her arms around his neck urging him to come close. When his lips were a mere breath away, she licked her own and purred, "If you dance with me, I'll give you any three wishes you want tonight."

Darcy thought himself a strong man; one who could withstand bribery, after all, it was mostly done with money. He'd never had any desire to dance to fast songs; he didn't want to face ridicule. But with all these characteristics in his proud armoury, he was no match for Lizzy's weapons of persuasion. Before he knew what he was doing, he was following her onto the dance floor. She had the decency to take him to a private corner, but it wasn't to save him from embarrassment ... or perhaps it was, but for a different matter all together.

No sooner had they found their intimate spot amongst the other dancers then she had begun to swing her hips in a movement reminiscent of a belly dancer. Her arms slinked erotically above her head and her eyes were steadfastly on Darcy's with a look of pure wantonness. Her whole body oozed sensuality and her evocative performance was for him alone.

Lizzy had always been comfortable on the dance floor. She had confidence in her innate rhythm so she was completely at ease with her sybaritic performance, even though she'd never been so overtly sexual in public. However, she really wasn't cognizant of being anywhere but near Darcy's body. She wanted him close to her. She wanted him to lose his self-control. She wanted him to succumb to the moment, and she wanted him ... period. She hadn't planned for their one dance to be so suggestive, it just unconsciously happened due to their pent-up desire, and once she started, there was no turning back.

For the first few moments, Darcy stood still. He didn't even hear the music. Her body's natural fluidity captivated him. Before that moment, she had flirted with him and, yes, she had even initiated their aborted lovemaking experience the week prior; however, she'd never tried to slowly seduce him. He still hadn't budged when her arms made their way to his shoulders and her body brushed against him. She pressed against him firmly enough that he could feel her hardened nipples through his clothes, as well as the motion of her lower body as it ground against him. Her hands languidly made their way down his torso to his hips, which she guided in a similar rhythm to hers.

Needless to say, he was inspired. The circular movement of his hips was natural to him, particularly when mirroring hers. The motion certainly stirred his imagination. He delicately placed his hands on her shoulders and then allowed them to slide lower, feeling the soft contours of her bare back. Just touching her skin seared his palms but he tempted fate by drifting even lower. He felt no resistance from Lizzy, in fact, her hands did the same and she gave him a wicked grin, her eyes flashing audaciously. Their vertical foreplay carried them away to a world of their own, where they shared a moment loaded with great desire and expectation.

Although their location was fairly secluded, one set of eyes were fixed intently on their every move. Caroline's body language told of a soldier on guard - her sceptre in the position of a rifle on her shoulder. She was livid. She had wanted this night to help in the progress of winning back Darcy's affections and nothing had gone according to plan. She'd hoped at least to have him in a matching costume. He's worn a damn tuxedo for five years in a row, how the hell did she convince him to do otherwise? The Tart flaunted her sexuality with other men, she was saucy and she was doing things to him in public that he would have scorned only a few months ago. Caroline was immensely disappointed in Darcy. His sense of propriety had vanished, and worst of all, it wasn't because of her.

Because she was standing alone, shooting daggers at the couple, a couple of a different sort noticed her. Lucy Steele and Mary Crawford did not care for Caroline Bingley for a number of reasons but mainly because, before Lizzy had arrived on the scene, she had had her fling with Darcy. In the very small circle that is Ottawa high society, these ladies detested anyone besting them.

Lucy could never get more than two or three words out of the man no matter how hard she tried, while Mary had been one in a string of women when he was still a teenager. Years later, she'd never managed to persuade him to repeat their one time only encounter. She'd tried to convince him that her wild ways had ended around the same time as his; however, you can't convince someone of a lie when they know the truth. They approached Caroline, one on either side, with smug smiles, appraising her critically.

"Caroline, we are so looking forward to your little shop opening," Lucy began derisively. "Isn't it funny, you'll have to be nice to us from now on ... we are your prospective clientele after all."

"And the customer is always right, isn't she?" Mary added to a scowling Caroline.

Caroline nodded slightly, deciding she would rise above it all and keep silent... which only egged them on further.

"I see Darcy is enjoying himself. He's a changed man," Lucy noted.

"Yes, I've never seen him behave so wildly. Someone's getting lucky tonight. You must be miserable," Mary stated to Caroline's ever-tightening countenance. She couldn't keep quiet in the face of this much taunting, she hadn't the ability.

"He'll realize his grave error in judgment at some point. She's beneath us all."

"Until then, I'd say he's enjoying slumming it with something a little curver than you," Lucy said, enjoying her digs immensely. She turned to Mary - it was her turn.

"Caroline," Mary paused with a look of concern. "I believe you've worn the wrong sash on your costume ... it should say 'Runner-Up'."

The two ladies giggled mercilessly and walked away, but not before Caroline heard Lucy add, "Mary, you're too kind. She's not even that close."

Caroline Bingley finally had enough humiliation for one evening. Her brother's home had again turned into a torture chamber for her and there was no hope of any positive attention from the man of her dreams. She turned to leave but was interrupted by Henry Crawford.

"Caroline, I think someone mentioned we looked like a rather handsome couple, earlier. I happen to agree. Would you care to dance?"

She looked at Henry - a successful lawyer from Toronto, a man of striking good looks - and caved. She had suffered too many blows to her ego and she needed the soothing balm of a charming man who enjoyed her company, at least for one evening. She smiled brightly and allowed him to lead her to the dance floor and wherever else he intended. If she couldn't attract the man of her dreams, at least she could still attract a man.

It was a wise move on her part, for moments later another much more urgent conversation was taking place, and she wouldn't have wanted to witness the results. Darcy leaned over to Lizzy's ear and stated honestly. "I'd like to use my first wish, please."

A lazy grin spread across Lizzy's face. "Yes, Master?"

His gaze was penetrating and his voice, thick and unwavering. "I want us to leave together now to go to Pemberley where I can love you all night long." There was no way to refuse, no way Lizzy wanted to refuse, but before she totally gave in, she had to tease him a little ... after all, it cost her a lot to call him master, even if it was just in fun.

"Are you sure that's just one wish?"

"I'm a book publisher. I can be rather good with words," he whispered and inhaled the sweet smell of her hair.

"Knowing our history, I beg to differ," she replied pertly.

"Lizzy, please." He was truly imploring now. He was past the point of light teasing. Before he had even begun to talk, he had used the bulk of his self-control to suppress a growing stiffness in his trousers. Their dance was far too intimate for him to remain indifferent. He had waited patiently until she was ready to take that next move. It was time.

"You're right. I'll stop teasing. I'll be a good little genie now," she joked, but there was a softness to her eyes that let him know his message was understood.

With her agreement to his words, his seriousness abated and he couldn't help but say in a playful tone, "Damn, I hope not. I really wanted a naughty little genie tonight."

Lizzy threw her head back in laughter, he was so damn sexy when he let loose. She grabbed his hand and they hastily made their way to the cloakroom. They actually behaved, quickly grabbing their coats without lingering and hopped in the back of Darcy's car. Quinn had been quite efficient in getting to the door early. Now alone, their night was about to get much more enjoyable.

Chapter XIV, Part III

Inside the car, the two quickly joined lips and entwined arms. They were ravenous for each other and the rest of the world was now a blurred background for the next act of their erotic play. Lizzy was oblivious to where they were as long as Darcy's mouth was against hers. She delighted in his hands inside her coat, stroking her bare midriff, roaming up and down her body. Darcy was beside himself knowing they were about to consummate the chemistry that had been bubbling between them for months. He felt her hands as they delved inside his coat as well, unbuttoning the top of his military jacket. He couldn't wait to feel them against his bare skin.

They finally released each other in order to gulp some air lest they suffocate, and their eyes locked with expectant expressions. In that moment of separation, Lizzy's mind awakened to her surroundings. "What now?"

"Do you have to ask?" he answered as he brought her up on his lap and began to nuzzle into that little indented spot of her neck he now recognized as one of her weaknesses.

"But Quinn?" Lizzy asked half-heartedly.

Before Lizzy had the chance to back away, yet again, Darcy decided to nip her worries in the bud, only after he nipped at her earlobe, of course. "The panel, as I mentioned to you the other night, is sound-proof and totally secure. He cannot see or hear anything. There's no reason to stop what we're doing."

"But we have a half-hour drive," Lizzy tried to explain, while thumbing one of his shiny buttons.

"Then I say we should enjoy it as much as possible," he murmured while his lips tenderly brushed at her cheeks.

"How much?"

Darcy chuckled softly. He couldn't do anything else. He'd finally begun to figure out Lizzy's inane logic. She wasn't trying to be a tease, she really wasn't - he knew that. She was just being somewhat traditional; after all, she didn't want to be stark naked in the back of his limo for their first time together, and he couldn't blame her. He didn't want that either (for their first time, that is), and perhaps she was right in making him realize their impetuous behaviour could definitely have led to that very result. He was willing to slow things down while in their present location, but only so much.

"How about we let you decide," he replied enigmatically, caressing her cheek with his fingers while she snuggled into the crook of his neck.

"What do you mean?" she asked, somewhat confused.

"Why don't I do what I want to do to you, and you tell me when to stop," he explained, a devilish smirk on his face as she looked up at him.

"You don't think I'll stop you, do you?" Lizzy asked, seeing the challenge in his eyes.

"I would never presume to guess what you'll do from one moment to the next, Lizzy," he whispered in a dark voice. He'd used 'Lizzy' again and she knew he meant business.

He began his quest by tracing her jaw line with his lips - not a kiss, just skimming her skin in a way that made her body tingle. She was already in trouble.

She was oblivious to the fact he was removing her coat since his hot breath was making its way down the slope of her neck, again his lips only grazing her body, teasing her with their nearness. She arched her back to force firmer contact and she succeeded as he reached her clavicle; his pressure increased and moments later his tongue trailed a path along the neckline of her top.

He didn't dawdle there, however, and he laid her back on to the seat while kissing her ribcage and then her belly. His hands were underneath, kneading her bottom gently and she undulated to the rhythm of his touch. He made his way back up her body and reached her lips; a tantalizing kiss, full and generous, meant to tempt Lizzy into things she'd never dreamed of with anyone else ... ever.

His hands began to roam towards her breasts and soon the elasticized neckline was dragged down to expose her aroused pink nipples. He tweaked one bud and then rubbed it tenderly between his thumb and forefinger. The sensation caused her to let out a high-pitched whimper while biting her lip, knowing she should be quiet, but not remembering why.

He released her lips and moved to her ear to whisper in a thick, husky voice. "Do you want me to stop now?"

"No," she said meekly with an intake of breath. The thought of him stopping sent a shiver of alarm through her body. She could not let him stop, it all felt too blissful.

With her permission secured, he lowered his mouth to her breast, taking a nipple into his mouth and rolling it languidly with his tongue, then sucking it hard, only to release it moments later to allow his tongue to repeat its swirling motion. It was a terribly teasing method of seduction, one that was working wonders on Lizzy's willpower.

It felt so good to let go. Lizzy had always tried to keep her cool when with a lover. While having a zest for life, a freedom to be open and forward with whomever she met, she had been relatively controlled in her intimate encounters. She had never felt compelled to be so liberated until Darcy's touch had given her reason. He already seemed to know her body so well - his tongue, his lips, his hands, all had a way of driving her mad with want and encouraged her to be adamant in her requests for more. Whereas her other lovers were inexperienced or appeared to go through the motions so that they'd be reciprocated, Darcy's caresses seemed to be for her. Any favours returned would be welcomed but not demanded.

Her thoughts were spot on. Darcy revelled in watching her react to his touch and couldn't help but be incited by her insistence that he continue. While he was reticent in social situations and she was outgoing, within the privacy of their intimate moments, he was the extrovert, so to speak - willing to explore new territory, willing to push the sexual limits, while she was more hesitant. So to have her insisting on his continued ministrations stirred his libido incalculably. He adored the sweet taste of her skin, the fresh scent of her light perfume and particularly her inability to suppress the sounds of her complicity.

Before she could protest, Darcy lifted her back to his lap, wrapping his arm around her from behind to continue teasing her breast while his other hand moved to her hip and began gently massaging that part of her lower abdomen. Lizzy was surprised that the rubbing of that certain spot at her hip seemed to have a direct link to the centre of her arousal. It seemed a fairly innocent touch, but the tangible sensations, coupled with the considerable attention his other hand was delivering, were overpowering. She let out a stronger moan against his mouth and her pelvis rocked uncontrollably searching for further gratification.

"Shall I stop now?" Darcy whispered roughly after releasing her from a kiss.

She didn't answer with words though she did use her mouth to reply. She assaulted his mouth with a demanding, untamed kiss. It was all she could do to fight back. He had reduced her to a moaning, whimpering sex-starved sponge, soaking up all his attentions and hardly cognizant of time or place. It was wonderfully decadent but for a tiny little spot in her mind that told her she should at least attempt to return the favour, so her kiss, and her hands burrowed in his curls, were her only offerings. Darcy didn't seem to mind.

Her assent so perfunctory, Darcy decided to go one step further. His hand slid under the waistband of her harem pants. It then slowly slipped even lower to her heat and he savoured the moment when he finally touched her wetness, knowing it was for him, knowing he was driving her mad, knowing that by the time they reached his bedroom, she would be pleading with him to enter her swiftly.

His fingers stroked her gently and carefully, the lightest touch made her shiver in ecstasy. As much as he wanted to, he didn't rush; he wanted to take his time with her, and he also knew there wasn't much farther they could go in their present location. As she responded to his caresses with a moan deep in her throat, he increased the pressure and movement, consuming her with his dexterous abilities.

As he thumbed her sex, he could feel it grow plumper and dreamed of what it would be like to taste her excitement. Just the thought made his already solid erection even harder. She was so hot and so ready for him; he wished they were nearer his home. Thoughts of asking Charles for a room before they had left had seemed silly at the time; right now, he felt he'd made the wrong decision.

With visions of being inside her in his mind, his fingers made their way to her core, and he slipped one inside. He watched as her face became distorted, he could tell she was holding back a scream of passion and again, he wished she would let go, but he knew she wouldn't ... not yet. Slowly, he slid his finger in and out while his thumb continued to rub her delicate folds, and though this notion was meant to send Lizzy over the edge, a sudden realization hit him. She was so tight! He'd never felt anyone so snug. She wasn't suffering from his penetration in the least, she was definitely enjoying it, but why was she so compact? The memory of her sexual history came to mind and he was reminded she hadn't been with a man in quite some time. How long? Was it two years? As his mind worked out these innocuous facts, he continued his attentions. He could feel her body suddenly becoming acutely tense and she finally began to lose control.

Lizzy had let Darcy go farther than she'd expected. He had been so smooth, so enticing - everything he did made her want for more, from the heat of his breath to his wonderful scent; every stroke easily led to another and every time he asked permission to continue, she couldn't imagine ever letting him stop. His every touch seemed purposeful, as if he'd knew exactly what he was doing to ensure her arousal was maximized ... and by the time he reached her core, she was so taut, it was almost a relief to feel him inside. She also felt his excitement against the side of her hip, and he was incredibly rigid. As he touched her deeply, she envisaged him truly inside her and nothing could stop her from reaching her peak.

He watched her with fascination - her breath ragged, her face flushed, her hips instinctively gyrating and finally, her moaning, shuddering release. He had never witnessed anything so wonderful and the thought that he could watch this for the rest of his life blew his mind.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered after she'd calmed from her climax.

She turned into his chest after she grasped how she'd just behaved. She wasn't ashamed, but she couldn't believe what had just happened. It felt amazing. "Oh, my," she breathed, first adjusting her top, then wrapping her arms around him, snuggling even closer to him.

"Is everything alright?" Darcy asked, softly brushing her cheek. Everything had been perfect as far as he was concerned. He was beginning to worry that Lizzy would never be comfortable with any progress they'd take sexually.

He felt her shaking and his concern grew until she looked up to him with a smile. She was laughing! "I can't believe I just did that. You, Fitzzzwilliam, are a very talented man."

Relieved by her happiness, he beamed down at the breathtaking women before him and quipped, "Well, I don't like to brag..."

"In any case, I thank you. Wow. I feel like a strumpet!" she exclaimed, fanning herself.

"Elizabeth, you shouldn't - "

"Not in a bad way. I want to feel like a strumpet," she explained smiling. "I guess blondes really do have more fun. This is totally wild."

She paused and added, "So ... are you interested in me returning the favour here?"

She didn't ask that question with her usual playfulness, in fact she suddenly looked uneasy, though she was trying to hide it. Darcy didn't want to probe her thoughts too much - returning favours could be done more successfully in his bedroom and that was probably where she'd be more comfortable - so he stated the obvious. "Believe it or not, not yet. We're too close to Pemberley. You can't do what I want you to do in less than five minutes ... at least not to my satisfaction," he said, winking.

Relieved, Lizzy gave him a lingering look and then added, "And there's nothing I'd rather do tonight than satisfy you."

"I like the way you think," he said, lifting his brow and leaning in to continue their kiss until they reached Pemberley.

As the car reached the top of the driveway at Pemberley, Lizzy didn't notice the grandeur of the house or even its happy situation on the property. Her only concern was following Darcy as he rushed her towards the door.

He impatiently punched in the security code to open the door and lifted Lizzy through.

"Fitzwilliam, let me walk myself," she laughed as he swung her around in the entryway. He dropped her down slowly, their bodies rubbing roughly against each other, the friction igniting their desire again like a flint lights a flame.

Darcy slammed the door, pressed Lizzy against it and then assailed her lips. His hands were travelling over the silhouette of her body, feeling every lush feature. His tongue darted inside her mouth and swirled to savour her sweetness. His every sense was dedicated to engrossing Lizzy's mind and body and he was relishing her surrender.

It was his for the taking. His tongue had a way of tickling her mouth, sending tingles throughout her body. His hands couldn't roam her body fast enough; he had an all-consuming aura about him and Lizzy was lost in the magic.

Darcy heard the footsteps first. He prayed it was his imagination. He prayed his house was haunted on Hallowe'en. He tried to block the sinking sensation in his stomach until there was no doubt there was someone running down the upper level stairs. Then he heard the call. "William, I knew you'd be home early from Charles's..."

The star-crossed lovers pulled away from each other just as Georgie turned the corner of the staircase. She looked down in total surprise, never expecting Darcy to have company, and momentarily confused by the costumes underneath their open coats. The proximity of the couple to each other finally triggered Georgie's senses and a deep red blush rose from her neck.

"Oh, I'm so sorry. I'll ... I'll just go back to my room," she said with a quivering voice.

It wasn't that she was afraid of Darcy; it was that she had never seen Darcy bring a woman home before and she was mightily embarrassed to have interrupted. Because he kept his love life so private, she'd never thought of him as a sexual being, and she could easily tell that sexuality seemed to be the order of the day for the couple in the foyer.

"No, Georgie, wait," Darcy said a little harsher than he meant, so he softened his voice and moved toward her, bringing Lizzy by the hand. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, I was going to Montreal this weekend to visit friends ... I think I mentioned it ... anyway, I only have one tutorial tomorrow so I thought I'd skip it and drive up as far as Ottawa tonight so I'd get to spend some time with you. I didn't realize you'd have company, so don't worry, I'll just be in my room," she babbled, rather uncomfortable.

As much as he would have loved to shoo Georgie to her room, he knew he couldn't. He knew nothing more would happen with him and Lizzy that night. He had always kept her unaware of his relationships, particularly because they were all rather casual and he didn't want to give her ideas. He knew that was hypocritical, but he was her brother and surrogate father so he felt no guilt.

"No. Georgie, please don't go. There is someone I'd like you to meet," Darcy pleaded gently.

Georgie tentatively walked down the rest of the steps to meet the blonde lady standing with her brother. "This is Elizabeth Bennet. We've been seeing each other for quite some time now. Elizabeth, this is my sister Georgiana."

Lizzy didn't recover as quickly as Darcy. She was still rather flushed from the events in the car and her mind had already wandered to what was going to happen next. Meeting a kid sister had not been in the cards.

She absently smoothed down her clothing then looked down to see she didn't really have enough of a top to adjust. She moved to fix her hair and realized she still wore her wig. The thought of herself before Georgiana in a genie costume with platinum blonde hair actually helped ease her discomfort somewhat. She couldn't help but smile at the impression she was giving to this most beloved sister.

"It's nice to meet you, Georgiana," Lizzy said, extending her hand. "Please call me Lizzy. I've heard so much about you. Your brother loves to talk about you."

Georgie smiled shyly and took Lizzy's hand. "William's too kind to me. Please call me Georgie."

"Well, Georgie, before you get the wrong impression, I don't usually walk around in a genie costume, nor am I a blonde," Lizzy said, removing her hat and wig. Her hair had been clipped up with numerous bobby pins and she started to remove them. It gave her something to do to relax just that bit more.

"So I take it you were both at Charles's party," Georgie said and looked to Darcy with a grin. "And you actually wore a costume! Did pigs fly tonight too?"

"Funny, Georgie," Darcy replied with a wry smile. "Elizabeth suggested these costumes and I agreed."

"Impressive," Georgie said, nodding her approval. "Can I get you on my side when talk of spring break in Cancun comes up?"

Lizzy laughed at Georgie's quick thinking and at Darcy's look of dismay. "Don't see where you need me on your side. You're a grown woman; can't you travel where you want?" She winked at Georgie and couldn't hold in her laughter at Darcy's continuing darkening countenance. Georgie was absolutely amazed this woman was her brother's love interest. She was fabulous. "I think we're going to get along just great, Lizzy," she said, stepping off the last stair to stand by her new co-conspirator.

He really didn't have a rejoinder for their remarks and although he'd been rather smooth in the introductions, their conversation had reminded him he was in a silly costume and ten minutes prior he'd been fondling Lizzy in the most intimate of places. He needed to straighten up before he could feel truly comfortable in his sister's presence.

"Will you two excuse me for a moment? I think I'm going to change out of this outfit."

As much as Lizzy wanted to be mature about the situation, she couldn't help the pout that formed on her lip and she began, "But I like-"

She stopped and looked from Georgie to Darcy. "Never mind, go change. Your sister and I will exchange strategies ... I mean, we'll share stories about you."

Darcy rubbed a hand over his eyes and gave a worried glance to both women. "I'm in trouble, aren't I?"

Both of them nodded smugly so he took the stairs two at a time. No need to leave them alone any longer than necessary.

"So, I suppose William has shown you around the place?" Georgie asked, making conversation.

"Actually, I've never been here before," Lizzy answered honestly, still picking out the bobby pins from her hair.

Georgie's jaw dropped before she had time to recollect herself. She was shocked at her brother's manners. He admitted he'd been involved with this woman yet he had never taken her inside the house? Now, he was bringing her there for some action? She was heartily disappointed with him.

Lizzy could guess the direction of Georgie's thoughts and explained as tactfully and truthfully as possible. "Don't worry. I just haven't had the opportunity to come here before. Your brother and I ... we've had a fairly mixed up relationship."

"Well, let me show you around," Georgie began, and then added, "I don't mean to pry, but ... never mind, I shouldn't ask." Her wide eyes showed her definite curiosity in her brother's new love interest, even if she was trying to be polite.

"No prying necessary. I'm very open about my relationship with your brother," Lizzy explained as they walked down the hall towards the dining room.

"Well if you're open about things," Georgie began cautiously, "Could you really explain how you got William into a costume? I mean, this is the man who wouldn't even dress up when taking me out for Hallowe'en when I was ten!"

"I'm just very persuasive," Lizzy smiled, definitely not wanting to explain the finer details of her effectiveness with that particular victory to Darcy's sister.

"Okay, so I shouldn't ask about that, but can I ask what else you've persuaded him to do?" Georgie was all curiosity. This woman was a wonder - not only was this the first girlfriend to whom she'd ever been introduced, she was also rather challenging by taking up Georgie's cause immediately, not to mention the whole costume thing.

As they walked through the first floor rooms, Lizzy proceeded to give Georgie an abbreviated version of hers and Darcy's history, from the fake relationship, to the karaoke, and then of course, the bachelor auction. Georgie was flabbergasted and highly amused. By the time Darcy found them in the drawing room, she was holding her belly, keeled over on the Chesterfield laughing.

"What's so funny?" Darcy asked with a worried expression as he saw the two women getting along so well.

"Just trying to picture you singing Short Skirt, Long Jacket," Georgie replied.

"Oh, Elizabeth, you didn't," Darcy accused lightly, pinching the top of his nose and shaking his head in disbelief.

"Oh, Fitzwilliam, indeed I did," she retorted teasingly.

"Fitzwilliam," Georgie looked from Lizzy to Darcy in astonishment. "You mean you told her your real name?"

"Well, she asked. No one really ever asked before," Darcy replied with an endearing gaze towards the woman he loved. She smiled back warmly, and for a moment, Georgie wasn't even in the room.

Georgie wasn't blind. After all, she knew what she had interrupted earlier, but when she saw her brother look at Lizzy in such a tender way, she knew it wasn't just some physical thrill on his part. She was by no means an expert, but she felt she could detect true love in his eyes. She decided to make her exit to let these two be together in peace.

"You know, it's been great meeting you, Lizzy, but I really need some sleep. I've heard our first winter storm is coming tomorrow afternoon so I want to get to Montreal in the morning. I'm so glad we had a chance to chat, though. I've learned so much about my brother."

"Well, now you owe me some stories," Lizzy replied with a genuine smile.

"Definitely! Good night, you two," Georgie said, rising from the chesterfield and heading off to her room.

Darcy literally plopped down next to Lizzy, hung his head and muttered, "What are the odds? Being interrupted by Jane, then Georgie ... damn sisters. Who ever invented them?"

Lizzy smiled at his petulance, knowing he wasn't serious. She massaged his tense neck with her hand and dipped her head under his until he looked at her. "I think we're jinxed ... but you know ... Jane is definitely at Charles's tonight," she mentioned leadingly.

"Elizabeth," he said slowly. He brought his head up so that they faced each other at eye level again. "You know I can't. That's my little sister up there. We've talked about this before. She looks to me as she would a father ... I just ... I just couldn't leave. I mean, you said yourself the moment was lost when you heard Jane last week. Imagine how I felt when my little sister ran down the stairs to see me in a compromising position with someone who's a stranger to her."

"I suppose you're right." Lizzy understood, but couldn't hide her disappointment. Everything had felt so right tonight. She was wearing a sexy costume as was he, he had been more than generous in the limo, and she was willing and able to reciprocate. At that moment, she understood what Darcy must have been going through for the past month or so while she had denied him ... and oh, how guilty she felt now that she could relate to the frustration.

"You must know that saying no to you tonight is the last thing I want to do," he paused to kiss her lips lightly. "You had me so ready tonight, I didn't know if I'd make it back to the house in one piece."

"I know ... I mean, I know how you feel," Lizzy sighed, but she was resigned. She rose from the Chesterfield and stood before him taking his two hands in hers, swinging them lightly.

She wasn't one to dwell on disappointment and she quickly thought of an alternative idea. "I think I'll go home now and I'll go to work tomorrow. It's not even midnight so I'll get plenty of rest ... and when I get home, maybe I'll pack a bag for tomorrow night ... and maybe, if there's a gentleman willing, I can be picked up and brought to his home right after work so that we can spend the weekend together ... and maybe, since I won't take tomorrow off, I can be convinced to take Monday off so that we can extend whatever weekend activities we decide to pursue."

Darcy had to smile at her plan. "Elizabeth Bennet, have I ever told you, you are a woman of great intelligence? But, whatever happened to spontaneity?" he asked irreverently.

"Excuse my French, but fuck spontaneity," was Lizzy's frustrated reply.

Darcy shook his head and chuckled at Lizzy's language, not surprised in the least at this point. He tried to pull her down onto his lap, but Lizzy wouldn't let him.

"You are not going to get me on that lap again ... it's a dangerous place," she said, with an arch of an eyebrow.

She pulled Darcy up from the sofa and he quickly summoned Quinn by phone. Again, they shared tender, intimate kisses until they were half-heartedly ready to part.

As Lizzy opened the door, Darcy wanted to leave her in a pleasanter mood so he asked roguishly, "Did you rent that costume or do you own it?"

Lizzy smiled, figuring she knew where this was heading. "I own it. A friend made it for me."

"Good. We'll definitely need to get more use out of it ... privately. I didn't get to make my two remaining wishes." He kissed her once more and winked.

"I won't forget. Goodnight Fitzwilliam," she said, caressing his cheek with her fingers.

He leaned down to her ear and whispered huskily. "Goodnight, yet again, my Lizzy. I hope the next time I say this, you'll be lying next to me."

It had the effect he was looking for. Before she turned away, Lizzy gave him a look so full of longing; he knew she was as hard up as he was.

Tomorrow would work out for them, no matter what.

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