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Action & Reaction

Chapter XV

Ottawa is the second coldest national capital in the world, second only to Ulaanbataar, Mongolia. It is also the capital with the most snow, so when a heavy snowfall warning is issued, its residents take a passing notice and continue as usual.

Georgie left Ottawa and headed for Montreal early, only because she was a cautious driver with a protective brother. She made it safe and sound, calling him to set his mind at ease. An hour after she arrived, the snowfall warning changed - the temperature hadn't dropped enough to allow for snow and they were now expecting a huge freezing rain storm. The residents of Ottawa then took notice.

In the winter of 1998, Eastern Ontario, Southeastern Quebec and parts of the Northeastern U.S. suffered a major blow at the hands of Mother Nature. An ice storm swept through that geographical area in a most devastating manner. Ice toppled power lines and massive trees; it turned roads and highways into skating rinks, and brought everyday life to a standstill. Major city neighbourhoods were without power for days and some rural homes lost it for more than a month. Although the storm left its fair share of devastation, what was unique about this natural disaster was that unlike most weather systems, it left a trail of beauty in its wake. Once the freezing rain stopped, the temperature dropped, so thousands of bent and curved trees sparkled like crystal sculptures, and the snow covering the ground shone with an icy coating. It may have been a catastrophe to modern amenities, but that part of the world never looked so beautiful.

The threat of this kind of ice storm brought Darcy to Lizzy's office early, not that he really needed an excuse. While others braced for a horrid weekend, the two were quite content with the prospect of being holed up at Pemberley by themselves to ride it out, so to speak.

"I thought this day would never end!" Lizzy exclaimed as she hopped in the back of Darcy's Range Rover, overnight bag in hand.

"Funny, I feel like it's just beginning," Darcy said as he leaned in to kiss her hello.

"Oh, today is a smooth day for you, is it? Well, that's good, I like to hear pretty compliments rather than orders or fits of stubbornness," Lizzy teased.

"I wasn't that bad last night, was I?"

"Depends on what you mean by bad," Lizzy replied quietly, wiggling her eyebrows. The Range Rover did not have the privacy panel so they were forced to remain restrained. "But seriously, no, you weren't that bad. I just wished you had given in to me sooner. I could have skipped dancing with Edmund and maybe Henry. The others, I didn't mind so much, but dancing with you was most enjoyable."

Darcy wisely kept quiet on the subject and the drive to Pemberley from Lizzy's office was amicable, if a little slow due to the already slippery conditions. Darcy explained that his home was well equipped for any serious power outages. Since Pemberley was originally the home of a lumber baron, there were fireplaces in every room. He also had a generator that kept his hot water tank, kitchen, dining and drawing rooms fully functional. His own suite of rooms had a propane space heater and two fireplaces stocked with plenty of firewood. Mrs. Reynolds always prepared enough food for an army, so they needn't worry about cooking for a couple of days.

"Then all we have to worry about is other comforts," Lizzy whispered excitedly. Finally, they could be alone and concentrate solely on intimate pleasures. If Lizzy had learned anything from their delays, it was that she wouldn't be contented until their relationship was fully consummated.

Quinn couldn't hear what the two were talking about, but he certainly could guess what they were going to be up to that weekend. He stifled a smile for fear they'd notice through the rearview mirror, but he couldn't help but be happy for his employer. Miss Elizabeth was a breath of fresh air and Mr. Darcy was definitely inhaling her deeply, making him a healthier, happier man. But knowing his employer's activities as well as he did, he suspected the two were having some troubles 'connecting'. He sympathized with them, but it looked like they finally had things under control.

Arriving at Pemberley, Darcy noticed Mrs. Reynolds's car was still in the parking lot. He, Lizzy and Quinn instantly went to the kitchen. Before Darcy could speak, Mrs. Reynolds smiled brightly at Lizzy with an outstretched hand. "You must be Miss Bennet. I trust you're feeling better."

"Oh, yes, thank you. It's nice to meet you, and please call me Lizzy. Your chicken soup was delicious. I don't suppose you give out your recipes?" Lizzy asked, returning the warm smile and handshake.

"I might be able to make an exception this one time," Mrs. Reynolds said agreeably.

Darcy was pleased the two were meeting as Mrs. Reynolds had been with the family since his childhood; however, before they started swapping their favourite secret ingredients, he interrupted. "What are you still doing here, Joanne? You should be home by now. The storm's already making driving a challenge."

"I just wanted to get these few things ready for your weekend and then I'll be off."

"You're not driving home in your little Corolla. Quinn or I can take you in the Range Rover."

After much protestation, Mrs. Reynolds gave in but only if Quinn drove, since Mr. Darcy had company. She refused to leave immediately, as she wanted to finish what she was doing. The master of Pemberley left Mrs. Reynolds to her preparations and brought Lizzy up to his room.

Although happily anticipating whatever the rest of the day would bring to her, Lizzy still felt awkward being led up to Darcy's bedroom to put her things away. It was exactly what she didn't want - it seemed so predictable, so planned, so blasé... and she definitely didn't feel blas é.

Darcy wasn't concerned about spontaneity at this point. He happened to agree whole-heartedly with Lizzy's pronouncement on the issue the night before. He was eager to bring her to his room, and though he would rather stay there with her from the start, he wanted her experience to be perfect, and having Quinn and Mrs. Reynolds below would not do.

Upon opening the door, Lizzy eyes widened, then shut, then widened again to make sure she wasn't seeing things. They walked into a sitting room, elegantly decorated and larger than the entire main floor of her townhouse. There were fully stocked floor to ceiling bookshelves on the longest walls, and a ladder on wheels just like an old bookstore or university library. One end of the room was anchored by a massive mahogany antique William IV desk, and the other by a formidable grey marble fireplace with a refined yet comfortable sitting area. Before her was what made her breath catch; through opened double doors stood an enormous, luxurious, carved four-poster king-sized bed. His bed. The bed she would have been laying in if his sister hadn't been home the night before.

This was what she wanted to avoid - this feeling, as if she was being given a tour of his 'lair'. She knew it was nothing of the sort; the bedroom, the bed, the whole suite was rich, yes, but also tasteful. It was just that she couldn't help but wonder how many other women he'd brought here, and her feelings of insecurity popped up again. She wasn't used to feeling unsure, she was a confident woman. Of course, she'd never had such strong feelings for a man ... and such a man! It changed her whole perspective on intimacy. She scanned the entire suite of rooms, stunned into silence. She suddenly felt quite small and overwhelmed.

"Do you like it?" Darcy asked expectantly. He hoped she would be pleased.

"What's not to like. It's amazing. Your whole home is amazing. I've never seen anything like it; not that I traipse through the bedrooms of multi-millionaires that often," Lizzy answered dryly.

"Glad to hear it," he said with an amused smile and a sideways glance. He then noticed her dazed appearance mixed with a touch of shyness. He'd come to find her bouts of bashfulness absolutely adorable. The night before, he had fondled the most sensitive spot of her body, but in the harsh light of day, she was nervous entering his bedroom fully clothed.

Mindful of her feelings, Darcy refrained from suggestive or playful remarks, and instead casually showed her where to put her things. He then gave her some time alone while he went to see if Quinn and Mrs. Reynolds had left and to make sure all the things he'd requested for the evening were ready.

Lizzy used her private time to take it all in. She put a few things in his closet where he had suggested, and couldn't resist gently stroking the gorgeous row of custom-tailored suits. She smiled, wondering where he had hung the uniform. She would have loved to lay it on his bed just to see his reaction.

She wondered which side of the bed he slept on, but quickly noticed a telephone and a half-read manuscript on one night stand. This relieved her as she had brought a few things she wanted to place on her side without him knowing - namely, condoms. She liked to think he was prepared, but one never knew, so she safely stored a package in the drawer next to where she'd be sleeping.

Lizzy took her time, admiring artwork and furniture, and finally gaping at the luxurious bathroom. The glassed-in shower alone was big enough for three (though she hoped the reason was purely aesthetic). It was fitted with a bench as well as rings of body jets ready to massage at every level. The Jacuzzi tub was equally massive and she found a door that opened to his own private sauna. She could happily live and die in that bathroom!

She had intended to change out of her work clothes, but she spent so much time snooping and imagining what it would be like to wake up in this room with Darcy every day, she thought better of it. She headed down to find him, wishing there was some way for them to have an impulsive moment, instead of a leisurely evening where they were both expecting the inevitable... the wonderfully inevitable, but inevitable nonetheless. She should have been careful what she wished for....

~ * ~

Darcy found the kitchen empty giving him the chance to inspect everything. The champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries were chilling ... but they were for later in the evening. The coq au vin was warming in the oven, the rice pilaf was cooked, the salad was tossed and the shrimp cocktail was on ice. All Darcy had to do was reheat the rice, toss the salad and serve. He was thrilled to have her to himself in his home, not only because they'd be together in his bed, but also because he simply enjoyed seeing her there. If felt so right to have her at Pemberley... her physical presence in his room simply made him happy. He wanted her to be as comfortable as he was because it was his fondest wish for the future to have her there permanently. For tonight, however, he wanted Lizzy to be relaxed, he wanted their night to be ideal and with the storm outside, nothing need interrupt them.

Of course with the luck we've been having the roof will probably cave in on my bed, Darcy thought. Well it wasn't the roof, but close. The buzzer from the entrance gate rang.

Please say Quinn forgot the code, Darcy thought as he approached the camera, but that assumption was not to be. He could see Charles's black Audi TT at the entrance. As tempted as he was to ignore him, he opened the gate, but hoped he could see his friend on his way quickly.

Darcy was walking towards the entrance as Lizzy came down the stairs. "You're not going to believe this," he said morosely.

"Believe what?"

He opened the door before Charles had the chance to ring. About to make a flippant comment, he stopped short when he saw both his friend and Jane were ghostly white. Lizzy immediately advanced to her sister once they were inside. "What's wrong?" Jane was too shaken to speak so Charles explained in an adrenalin-filled voice, "We were in the east end and didn't think the storm was going to come on so fast. We heard the Queensway was a disaster so we thought we'd come this way to get back to Jane's. But just as we came into Rockliffe, we skidded and did a 360. Luckily, there was no one else around. Yours was the closest place to come, Darcy."

"Are you both alright?" Darcy asked.

"Fine, just a little shaken up."

Darcy's concern for his friends overcame his desire for them to be gone. They were quickly ushered inside, and in an effort to ease their nerves, stiff drinks were handed out. Sitting on the Chesterfield, Lizzy finally got Jane to talk. "I'm okay now. It was just so terrifying ... well, you know."

Lizzy did know. Jane had been in an accident on her prom night. A close friend had been seriously injured and though he recovered, it affected Jane's soft heart. To go through such a close call again shook her usually serene nerves.

In fact, both Jane and Charles were so affected, they hadn't even realized they had quickly downed two whiskeys each. Darcy noticed and discreetly called Quinn to ask him to join them back at the house after dropping off Mrs. Reynolds. Jane and Lizzy's townhouse wasn't that far and if the roads were manageable for Quinn, Darcy would be more than happy to see his friends leave. Knowing Lizzy had nixed sex because of her sister once, he wasn't going to let it happen again, not in his own home anyway. A man had his limits and Darcy had been teetering on the edge of his for some time now.

He caught Lizzy's eye as she talked to her sister. She had an apologetic look on her face that terrified him. Was she already saying that tonight wasn't going to happen? She wouldn't go home with Jane, would she? Darcy was panicking inside and though he was usually rather good at keeping his emotions in check, he really wanted to speak with Lizzy.

Conveniently, she wanted to leave Jane and Charles alone for a moment. Charles had no idea Jane had previously been in such a serious accident, and Lizzy advised her sister to explain to him why she was much more upset than he. She also noticed Darcy looked distressed and knew they needed to talk. "Darcy, can you show me where you keep your wine?"

Once in the kitchen, Darcy took her in his arms and kissed her soundly. Somewhat stunned but nevertheless pleased, she listened as he explained, "Don't know when I'll get the chance to do that again so I thought I'd take advantage of our privacy."

She smiled at his expression of need for her but asked, "Why wouldn't you have the chance?"

"What if the roads are bad and Quinn can't take them home. They'll have to stay."

"I suppose we'll have to spend time with them, but I'm sure you have a bedroom for them, far, far away from yours."

"You mean, you're okay with us ... being together ... if they stay?" Darcy asked, somewhat surprised.

"My dear Fitzwilliam, there's a bit of a difference between the size of my townhouse and your place. Your walls are three feet thick and your bedroom is behind two sets of solid oak doors. I think we can be assured of privacy. Besides, I'm tired of letting things interfere with us," she answered practically with her last sentence holding a tinge of petulance.

Relief washed through Darcy. He could handle anything knowing Lizzy wasn't going to be dissuaded tonight. "Well, they may be able to go to your townhouse yet."

"I don't think so," Lizzy began. "Jane would be a nervous wreck."

She explained the situation and Darcy realized it would probably be best if Charles and Jane stayed. "But they'll be in a bedroom on a different floor, in a different wing."

"Excellent idea," Lizzy replied with a nod of her head. As she poured a glass of wine, she asked over her shoulder, "Will you need help in the kitchen for dinner now that there are more of us?"

"No, everything's-" He stopped himself, and came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist, inhaling her sweet lavender scent as he delicately brushed the nape of her neck with his lips. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I think I'll need a lot of help. We may be busy in the kitchen until dinner is served."

~ * ~

As the four chatted genially over a delicious meal, the weather worsened outside. Quinn had been back to help make a bedroom serviceable for Charles and Jane and had retreated to the privacy of the gatehouse where he lived.

Lizzy and Darcy stole little glances at each other every once in awhile, but they were both a bit disappointed. They secretly caressed each other's hands under the table but their naughty play was noticeably absent. This meal was to have been for two, a romantic, quiet dinner where they could be as rapt with the other as they wanted. They were now forced to make conversation, and although it was with people they loved, it was unfortunately a tedious exercise for them.

Without realizing it, Lizzy was drowning her misfortune with wine. Darcy's selection was quite good and although she sipped at it, she did so quite frequently. It relaxed her a little too much, and Darcy would have noticed had he not been doing the same.

As they were finishing up the main course, the lights flickered on and off long enough for Darcy to guess the generator had kicked in and the power was off in the rest of the house. Once they had eaten dessert, the four spent the next little while preparing for the night by gathering flashlights, lighting candle sconces and hurricane lamps throughout the rooms and hallways, and starting fires in their respective bedrooms.

They finally regrouped in the Drawing Room when the doorbell rang again. Darcy had just poured himself a tumbler full of whiskey when a sopping wet Richard came in, backpack in hand. He stood in a full length navy wool coat and winter boots, but no hat. He looked somewhat pathetic - a drowned rat immediately came to Darcy's mind. "Darce, thank heavens I live only four blocks from you. Can you imagine the mess of me if I didn't?"

Rage scampered up Darcy's spine to the back of his neck, whispering in his ear to kick them all out. He had patiently waited for Lizzy to trust him, he had given her the time she needed before she was willing to make love, then it was like he had walked into a mine field where he dodged potential explosions only to be forced to take steps back and wait. He wanted her in his room at that very moment, no, not that moment ... he wanted her there yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. It took all his might to be polite to Richard ... and Charles ... and even Jane.

"I take it your power is gone," Darcy stated, emotionless, absently downing the whiskey and pouring another one.

"Brilliant deduction as always, Darce," Richard quipped. He'd no clue how bad an idea it was to tease his cousin. Luckily for him, Darcy was trying to be on his best behaviour for Lizzy. "I suppose you'd like a room," he said through a clenched jaw, taking another gulp from his second drink.

"You're a regular Sherlock tonight," Richard said, smiling.

"Come," Darcy ordered, slamming the remainder of his drink down, and turning to the stairs without waiting for a reply.

Richard turned to Lizzy. "You better give him something special tonight. That man's rather uptight." Without waiting for a reply, Richard followed his cousin. Lizzy stared at his retreating figure, dumbstuck ... and then the wine began to kick in. She giggled at his accuracy.

Although Lizzy and Darcy weren't regular drinkers, they enjoyed a libation or two on occasion. However, by the time Darcy and Richard returned from a room very near Charles and Jane's, our oft-interrupted couple were both feeling rather tipsy. They'd each imbibed just enough to forget themselves in the company of others, particularly because they were, not surprisingly, feeling rather randy.

Darcy immediately walked over to Lizzy and wrapped his arm around her. "I can't believe this," he whispered, more because it enabled him to give her earlobe a provocative suck. Lizzy bent her head to her shoulder and giggled; his tongue had tickled.

There were several competing interests now in the Drawing Room. Jane and Charles were happy to be safely ensconced in Darcy's home, their bellies full and their minds slightly buzzed from alcohol. They were an established couple who felt no need to hurry off to the privacy of a bedroom; they were perfectly content to be amongst others for the evening.

All dried off and settled in his room, Richard was a bundle of energy after his chilly jog to Darcy's, but he couldn't help but notice Lizzy and Darcy's friskiness, not to mention seeing Jane and Charles holding hands. He could only roll his eyes. Marvelous, I'm stuck here with two slightly sauced love-struck couples.

Lizzy and Darcy were, of course, uncomfortable with the extra company. Night after night they had tried unsuccessfully to connect. They were shot down at ever turn. Darcy was bewildered by the fact he, of all people, couldn't get privacy in his own home. Any given night in the past year he could have guaranteed it, but for the last two.

"So, what now? Darce, is your entertainment room functional?" Richard piped up wanting something to divert everyone's attention from amorous pursuits, as he was lacking the required partner.

"No." Darcy felt no need to be hospitable to his cousin. He'd known him long enough for Richard to understand his moods.

"Allllllllllright then," Richard continued. "Why don't we play something? A game. Do you have Monopoly? Trivial Pursuit?"

Charles shot the suggestion down. "We can't play Trivial Pursuit, Darcy always wins," but suggested eagerly, "How 'bout cards?" The night was young and Charles was always social. "Jane?" Jane nodded her agreement.

Lizzy looked at Darcy and shrugged. It looked like they couldn't make a quick getaway. He was technically the host of these uninvited guests.

"Wonderful. What shall we play? Not 45s - that's too blue-hair set, isn't it? What about Euchre?" Richard asked.

"I hate Euchre," Darcy stated. "Let's play poker."

Darcy was a poker expert. He felt he could beat them all quickly and handily, thus bruising some egos, and enabling him to end the evening early.

Lizzy liked that idea too, as she fancied herself quite the poker player. Her father had taught her years ago and as a teen she played with some fellows in her neighbourhood, winning more often than not. Her skills had been further refined last year when she befriended a few diplomats from a group visit from Monaco. She heartily agreed to the suggestion.

"But you're a great poker player too," Charles complained.

"Not up to the task, Charles?" Darcy inferred dryly, knowing how to push his friend's buttons.

"Well ... well, of course I am," he answered, a bit flustered with the challenge.

"Perfect," Richard interjected. "Right then, how much shall we bet on each hand?" He said as he rummaged through a drawer to find a deck. Richard knew where everything was in Darcy's house.

"Wait a second, who said anything about money?" Lizzy asked, turning to Richard, her hands firmly planted at her hips, affronted by the assumption. She explained her misgivings. "You three men have deep pockets, much deeper than mine or Jane's. A poker game here and there is chump change for you, but for me ... well," she looked over to Darcy sheepishly and continued, "I've already overspent my entertainment budget for the entire year. I can't afford to risk my hard earned salary on poker with high rollers."

Richard understood her reasoning but he'd never really played poker for anything but money, so he threw it back to her. "What would you suggest, then?"

"I don't know ... something that levels the playing field. Maybe we can bet household chores or something..." Lizzy thought out loud, unsuccessfully.

"No good to us. We already have someone taking care of that," Darcy explained with a wry smile that seemed to invite Lizzy nearer. She walked right up to him, looked him straight in the eye and asked, "What do you suggest, then, Mr. Darcy, Master of Pemberley?"

Darcy leaned close to her face and answered her taunting question quietly. "I think strip poker might be fun." He had a smirk on his face and his eyes never wavered, but his hand slowly glided up her arm. When it reached her elbow, his thumb jutted out and slid repeatedly over her blouse, arousing her nipple. She drew her breath in sharply and replied enticingly, "I like the sound of that."

Due to the couple's slight intoxication and their total disregard for everyone else in the room, they were louder than they realized... not particularly loud, but enough for a nosy Richard to overhear.

"I'd never take you for one to suggest it, Darcy, but strip poker sounds like a brilliant idea, and it seems Lizzy's in agreement."

Richard's statement went a long way to sobering Darcy. "Now, wait a minute. That was said in jest."

"It sounded pretty serious to me," Richard countered."Don't be ridiculous. We're in mixed company," Darcy chastised his cousin's depravity.

"No offense, Darce, but it's no fun playing strip poker when it's just men." Darcy couldn't argue that point, but Lizzy finally spoke up.

"You know very well Darcy didn't intend to be overheard. He was simply teasing me."

"Exactly." Darcy nodded decidedly. "You can't expect the women to play strip poker with us. Their dignity would be compromised."

Hearing Darcy's last words, Jane slowly lowered her eyelids. She knew very well what would happen next. Darcy may have been over the moon for her sister but he had yet to come to grips with her competitive nature.

As if on cue, Lizzy asked as casually as possible. "What do you mean?"

Darcy didn't sense any annoyance in her question and he had imbibed enough to speak plainly and without much thought. "I won't allow you and Jane to be reduced to strippers for Richard's entertainment."

"What's wrong with that?" Richard's joke fell on deaf ears. Lizzy's target was Darcy and she wanted an explanation.

"Oh," Lizzy replied before calmly adding, "So, you don't think Jane and I stand a chance and you want to protect us."

Darcy again didn't notice the tone of antagonism in Lizzy's voice. He placed a patronizing hand on her shoulder and smiled kindly. "I'm sure both of you are fine card players, but we're not talking about 45s in the church hall. Richard and I, we've played some high stakes poker in our day."

Charles looked to Jane and whispered. "Does he do this on purpose to goad her?"

Jane whispered back. "I think he thinks he's being noble."

Charles rolled his eyes just as Lizzy finally let her opinion rip. "Who are you to presume you know the level of my poker skills? It could very well be the men who end up stark naked, particularly with that kind of self-aggrandizing attitude."

"Elizabeth, what are you saying?" Darcy replied, dumbfounded. "I'm simply trying to shield you from any embarrassment. You can't really entertain the thought-"

"Oh, I certainly can, especially when you've already shown a big weakness. Overconfidence is not a characteristic you want to highlight. I already feel ahead of the game. If we were to play, I guarantee I could beat the pants off you," Lizzy retorted, failing to realize her own statement was as cocky as Darcy's.

"Elizabeth, be reasonable." Darcy attempted to calm her, trying to make her grasp the ridiculousness of even considering the game in the first place. It had been a private joke that he dearly wished he could take back but by this point, everything he said to her seemed condescending.

Lizzy lifted her chin with resolve. "Darcy, you're the one who suggested it, now you have to pay the price ... which will probably be your shirt, tie and pants before you even know what hit you."

"Lizzy," Jane said sternly, and then softened. "Come here, please."

Once Lizzy was before her, Jane implored, "What are you thinking? As much as he doesn't know your skill level, you don't know his either, and my skills are certainly not strong enough to assure me that I won't have to remove a lot of clothes."

Lizzy bit her lip, aware she may have gone a little far, but then her face brightened when she answered her sister's concerns. "You're right, but Jane, don't worry. Even though I've challenged him, do you think Darcy would allow either one of us to get into a humiliating position? I'm sure if we got anywhere near nudity, he'd let us bow out of the game. He's too much of a gentleman, even if his ego sometimes gets in the way."

Jane knew Lizzy was right about Darcy's courteous behaviour. She also knew Lizzy was a competent poker player and just might surprise the men. She wasn't so sure about herself, but the indignant feminist in her wanted to beat down the testosterone in the room. Even though Richard and Charles hadn't said much, she could tell they assumed the same - the women would lose. When she agreed to play, she saw the surprised look on Charles's face, but he certainly wasn't disappointed.

With significant trepidation, Jane sat at one end of the table. Charles quickly followed, facing her, thinking this quite the adventurous moment for his lady, heartily amused with the concept of strip poker and the possibility of seeing Jane take her clothes off slowly. However, he hadn't exactly thought through all the possible consequences.

Richard was jovial and a bit giddy with anticipation. He wasn't afraid of nudity in any form - his or anyone else's. He was ready to play regardless of the outcome, but he was quite thankful he was playing with particularly attractive women.

Lizzy was a determined, stubborn woman, intent on winning. She really wasn't being rational. She had let Darcy's misguided chivalry get to her. Instead of seeing it as kind, she only saw it as sexist and supercilious. While she fumed over his overconfidence, she neglected to notice she was emitting the same emotion. She thought little of the possibility of undressing and the repercussions if Darcy decided to just let the clothes fall where they may.

Darcy's whiskey consumption was now irrelevant. Events about to unfold rendered him stone cold sober. The woman he loved had positioned herself in a situation over which she had no control nor did she have any idea of its seriousness. As far as he was concerned, she was about to be naked at Pemberley - one of his fondest wishes - but somehow the gods had taken hold of his desire and distorted it to torment him, yet again. However, as much as he wanted to prevent any embarrassment to her - which he would if it became necessary - he was also a bit miffed that she wouldn't listen to his judgment on the matter. He was an extremely knowledgeable card player and was ready to show Lizzy why she should have trusted him.

With the cut of the cards, Jane was first to deal and to everyone's surprise, she won the first hand. "I guess there's something to be said for beginner's luck," she commented with a shy shrug of her shoulders.

"Excuse me, earrings are not clothing," Richard stressed with his haughty British accent, while Lizzy removed one as her first payout.

"I didn't hear anyone specify that beforehand," Lizzy replied resolutely. No one questioned her, but Charles commented, finally realizing he was only wearing five pieces of clothing. "Well, now the men are at a disadvantage."

"Ah, the beauty of accessorizing," Lizzy quipped with a coy glance across the table to Darcy.

He wanted to be displeased by her smugness, he really did, but he was impressed with her ability to find a loophole to help her position, and besides, the look on her face was terribly fetching. It inspired him to begin disrobing her in his mind, a definite handicap to his game.

Jane proceeded to win the second hand and the men were momentarily worried. "Are you a card shark, darling?" Charles asked as he removed a second sock.

"I'm as surprised as you are," Jane replied, wide-eyed and innocent.

Darcy shook his head at his own blindness. Strip poker wasn't quite like regular poker. Nobody folded. It was only partially based on skill, the luck of the draw had as much to do with it, which is why Jane had been successful. He would have to be very careful.

He won the next hand decisively which prompted Lizzy to remove nothing more revealing than the barrette from her hair. While this may have disappointed Richard, who began to worry he'd only get to see Charles naked, it stirred Darcy's blood far more than it should have. He was envisioning those loose curls spread over the pillow of his bed, and a scarlet heat boiled through his body.

His distraction led to Lizzy winning the following hand and with that, Charles was reduced to his underwear. He was quite uncomfortable and extremely worried about the next round.

However, he had his very own heroine. Jane had been a bit distraught for Charles, but also amused, and not a little aroused. As she laid down a full house, she looked deadly serious. "I believe it would be wise for me to quit while I'm ahead and before Charles has to show his behind. I'm taking him upstairs. I think some strip poker lessons are in order." She then stood, waggled her eyebrows and smiled widely, her hand outstretched waiting for Charles to take it.

"I just need to wear more clothes," Charles grumbled as his woman led him to their room, leaving an increasingly randy Darcy, a still indignant Lizzy and an unfailingly curious Richard.

As the cards were dealt, Lizzy suddenly grasped the opportunity before her - not the chance to bring Darcy down a notch by besting him, but the reality of a naked Darcy before her. Richard's presence was forgotten as she envisioned him and his entire muscular nude form at her disposal. Her determination to win now had more to do with sexuality than sexism.

Over the course of the game, their mutual frustration had morphed into unconcealed lust. The need to beat each other for a principle was thrown out in lieu of seeing the other strip. Neither she nor Darcy had the advantage with the next hand, their minds engaged in fantasies rather than the cards. Richard won and was also highly amused with the idea of stripping these two down. He was their ultimate interruption and he thought denying them privacy was a great joke.

Nothing too revealing had been discarded yet, though - Darcy merely lost his second sock while Lizzy had only to remove a scarf. The advantage of playing strip poker in work clothes rather than party clothes was becoming obvious - it would take awhile to get to the more intimate layers.

Darcy, frustrated by his play, focussed all his efforts on the game and was successful with the next hand. Richard was only required to lose another sock and Lizzy was required to lose her first; however, in her case, it was a stocking. Knowing it would give her an advantage, Lizzy pushed back from the table and let both men watch as she peeled off her hose. She reasoned that it was no worse than them seeing her in a pair of shorts, but the slow, seductive action of slipping silk down her leg left both men a bit woozy ... and quickly made Darcy angry at having to share the moment with his cousin.

"Richard, isn't there anywhere else you should be at the moment," Darcy asked aggressively without removing his eyes from Lizzy as she adjusted her skirt and moved back into the table. She was staring directly back at him, matching his intensity, but with a slight teasing glint in her eye, failing miserably at hiding a smirk.

Unfortunately, Richard was knowingly interfering in their ferally competitive moment and was enjoying the show immensely. He had no clue their relationship hadn't been consummated. He was blissfully ignorant and certainly wouldn't be receiving that tidbit of information from the couple at the table.

"Nope, nowhere," Richard replied as if oblivious to Darcy's overt hint.

The next hand was dealt and while part of Darcy's brain wanted to keep Lizzy's body parts hidden from Richard, the other part - the one located below his belt - desperately wanted to watch her remove the second stocking. His lower brain and his fabulous straight flush won out and Lizzy was again lifting her skirt to mid-thigh and flicking off her garter temptingly. She gave Richard a hard glance as if to tell him he wasn't wanted, then meticulously shed her second stocking, and tossed it onto Darcy's face.

He grabbed it in mid-air, inhaled it with gusto and then threw it with a flourish onto his shoulder for safekeeping.

"Seems you're proving your acumen after all," she stated in a deep, piercing voice. Lizzy proved her poker prowess, however, by winning the next hand. Both boys removed their 'accessory' - a belt.

Richard looked from one to the other and could swear they were about to gnaw through the table to get to each other. He knew he was driving them insane, but there was nothing more entertaining for him to do than be a voyeur in their match of wills as they slipped into mating ritual mode.

But finally ... FINALLY... Darcy's luck was about to change. He was no longer just lucky in cards. Richard's cell phone rang. It startled both him and Lizzy into consciousness, realizing their total absorption in the other.

"Saved by the bell," Richard wisecracked lamely before taking the call. Lizzy and Darcy's eyes darted briefly to Richard during his conversation but their concentration was solely devoted to each other. When Richard closed his phone, he looked at both of them with a pleasant smile and asked, "Darce, where are the keys to your Range Rover?"

"You're not going out in this weather, are you?" Darcy asked disbelievingly.

"I didn't think you'd care at this point, but I'm only going to the Château Laurier. Charlotte has a suite. It's too far for her to drive home safely. She thought I might like to join her, and I think she's right," Richard remarked.

Darcy could have argued about the safety of such an endeavour, but the hotel was only a five minute drive from his home and more importantly, Richard would be gone.

"They're in the kitchen. Drive safe. Have fun," Darcy said absently, his eyes never straying from the woman across the table.

After a goodbye to both and a thank you to Darcy, Richard walked away mumbling, "Hopefully as much fun as you're going to have."

"I'll deal," Lizzy stated with unflappable certainty.

As desperately as she wanted to win this hand and the rest, it didn't start off so well for our dear Lizzy, and her playing partner waited expectantly for her to remove an article of clothing.

Lizzy thought it over carefully. Were she to remove her skirt, her dignity would still be intact as he couldn't see anything under the table; however, should she remove her blouse, she would be facing him in nothing but a skimpy black lace bra, thus distracting him from his play. She was fairly certain Charles and Jane wouldn't reappear and she'd heard Richard drive off in the Range Rover so her decision was easy - throw Darcy off his game.

She slowly unbuttoned her blouse and noticed Darcy's eyes widen slightly - his poker face beginning to evaporate under the strain of anticipation. She'd untucked it from her skirt to get to the last button and then with a not-so-subtle stretch, shrugged the blouse off her shoulder, her chest jutting forward by the action. Darcy's eyes widened further and unbeknownst to him, his lips parted. With a final shimmy, Lizzy removed her blouse as provocatively as possible. And to top those two blatant manoeuvres, she proceeded to shamelessly lean into the table. Before Darcy were two bountiful breasts, presented to him like a sumptuous platter, ready for him to feast upon.

Despite Lizzy's lack of subtlety, Darcy had been reduced to a blithering, unfocussed, horny gawker, not particularly cognizant of anything but a certain snuggly packed package in black stretchy lace with a shiny front clasp winking at him, beckoning him to release it.

"Your deal." Lizzy broke the silence and Darcy's hypnosis.

He shuffled without knowing and dealt mechanically; his eyes, which had been permanently fixed on hers for most of the game, had now gone south. They were unable and unwilling to stray from the view directly before him; not only was her cleavage copious, he also saw a hint of two aroused nipples under the lace. When he finished dealing, Lizzy's lips turned into an amused grin. She put her cards down and stated calmly, "We play poker with five cards each, Fitzwilliam, not six."

Darcy gathered the cards, mortified by the error caused by his obvious distraction. Lizzy excelled at breaking his reserve and self-control; he knew it, but hadn't figured a way to overcome her proficiency. Needless to say, moments later, Darcy was unbuttoning his crisp linen shirt, after moving her stocking to his pant pocket - he didn't want to misplace that particular item of clothing. While his removal should not have been as dramatic as Lizzy's, the fact was, Lizzy had never seen him without his shirt. She had certainly felt underneath it, but any opportunity to see him unclothed had only been in her imagination.

He was perfectly aware of this, and when he removed his shirt, he stood; his impressive height dwarfing her as she sat in the chair. His moves were exaggerated in order to best enhance his physique, and when he pushed the shirt over his shoulders, he stretched as well, flexing his muscles, trying not to overdo it, in case Lizzy saw it all as a big joke.

He needn't have feared. Her eyes bulged as much as his had moments before. His broad chest and torso were taut and solid. She bit her lip as he turned to neatly place the shirt over his chair, the expanse of his back as mouthwatering to Lizzy as the view from the front. For a man so devoted to his business, it was impressive to see he was disciplined enough to keep his physical form as well-defined as his mental sharpness. She knew he enjoyed nuzzling in her cleavage, but she wondered if he'd be surprised to know she also yearned to attack his chest; it looked so powerful. Lizzy shifted in her chair as excitement filled her body, flowing downward to the center of her desire which was now becoming uncontrollably moist. She lost the following hand and as such, she lost her skirt. Again, she performed a delicate striptease, carefully unzipping it and letting it fall to the floor. She looked to Darcy with a naughty twinkle in her eye and gave him a coy remark. "Oops; looks like I dropped something."

She bent over to pick up the skirt allowing him to openly ogle her shapely bottom in dead-sexy black lace boyshorts. He didn't know how much more he could take of this, but once Lizzy draped her skirt over her chair, she sat back down, ready for the next round.

Luck, combined with a considerable amount of rabid lust in the man across the table, gave her the edge in the next game. She didn't even need to concentrate; she won without effort. Darcy stood for his disrobing, knowing perfectly well he was aroused. Under normal circumstances he would have done everything in his power to hide the fact; however, he unabashedly shed his trousers for Lizzy, wanting her to know what she did to him, and wanting her to be flustered by his lack of shame in showing it. He gave her a sight to behold in boxer briefs.

Her jaw uncontrollably dropped, but when she finally noticed, she shut it quickly, biting her lower lip as if to keep it from falling again. It had been a while since Lizzy had seen a man in such a state ... and never had she seen a man with such ... stateliness. Again, he turned to place his clothing on the chair, and she gulped hard as she caught sight of his tight, sculpted backside. She crossed her legs, wanting to somehow stifle her arousal so she could get through this game.

After feeling she'd been rightly impressed, Darcy sat down; this time he was the one with the satisfied smirk. Now she was the one who dealt mindlessly, she was the one with glazed eyes and unsteady breaths, and Darcy won this round easily. Unfortunately for him, she still had a garter belt to remove, but each knew the following hand would be decisive. Someone would have to lose something precious.

Darcy dealt, cock-sure he was about to see Lizzy remove part of her lacy ensemble. Lizzy held her cards confidently; certain Darcy would momentarily need to divest his boxer briefs. They were both tense, but was it from the fear of losing or the excitement of winning?

She placed her cards on the table with no hesitation; she had a flush, one of her best hands yet. Darcy was a little more dramatic, placing one card down at a time, showing one pair of threes, then another pair of tens, teasing her with the notion she'd won, until he put down another ten. A full house. "I believe that beats your hand," Darcy said, his voice resonating with a thirst for his payout.

Lizzy pouted, knowing she had been beaten. Even with all her accessories, she was still going to reveal bare skin; however, the idea wasn't as intimidating as it would been had the three other players still been at the table. She stood, well aware there would be no reason to sit again. Darcy wouldn't want to play cards with her topless because he'd only want to play with her topless.

Darcy rose as well, and walked towards her, a predatory look in his eyes, his arousal still evident. Both were breathing heavily, a steady, concentrated rhythm, as if preparing for a marathon. Lizzy reached up to her strap and fingered it lightly, licking her upper lip as she stared up at Darcy through her thick lashes. A minute smile on her face, she hesitated, as if delaying the moment to add suspense, and then she languidly slid a strap off her shoulder. She reached for the other one ... but suddenly stopped. The trace of the smile was gone; a nervous look replaced it.

Lizzy bit the inside of her lip, took a deep breath and went back to the other strap. Her eyes were wide. Darcy thought they looked apologetic. Her next comment confirmed his suspicions.

"I can't..." she whispered, shaking her head slightly. She pulled the strap back up, her eyes still steadfastly on his.

An almost imperceptible smile crept on Darcy's face. Again, her inexplicable shyness was taking over at the very last moment. She had been daring enough to play the game with mixed company, she had continued with Darcy alone as it became incredibly erotic foreplay, now, she had a bit of panic written on her face. She needed him to take control.

He stepped closer to her and lightly caressed her arms, looking down at her with an understanding expression. He wanted to reassure her, but he also wanted to make sure their evening continued. There was no reason to back down now. "I realize you're uncomfortable removing this last bit of clothing here. I completely understand."

She looked at him, a soft smile upon her face, and if he wasn't mistaken, a bit of relief. However, he wasn't finished. He gently toyed with her bra strap, kissed her lips ever so lightly, and added with a deep, arch voice, "That's why I'm quite prepared to do it for you."

It took a moment for Lizzy to absorb his meaning but there was no mistaking it when she saw a roguish grin spread across his face. All delicate adoration of the man fell by the wayside as her mouth dropped open in utter disbelief. She slowly backed away from him, her eyes never abandoning his. She picked up her clothes off the chair and held them to her chest.

"I can't..." she uttered again. This time there was far more certainty.

Darcy furrowed his brow. He was confused. This could not be happening.

She backed-up, her eyes still on him, a look of pain crossing her face.

"I can't..."

Darcy didn't believe it. This had to be some sort of a nightmare. She was ready, damn it! They had already been intimate, even if it wasn't sex. But no words came from his mouth. He was speechless as he watched her, shaking her head, looking tentative and small. She was tip-toeing backwards out of the room.

"I can't..." she repeated once again, as if convincing herself.

Darcy had no clue what to do. He was utterly bewildered and lost. She was backing away from him, literally and figuratively. She reached the thick oak balustrade of the staircase and stood behind it as if to hide. All of a sudden her expression changed.

"I can't ... believe you fell for that! Come and catch me, Fitzwilliam," she called as she ran up the stairs, followed by an impertinent giggle that hung in the air to taunt him.

For a moment, he stood there, stunned. How dare she! The nerve! And then, it hit him. She really got you, she got you good.

His primal instincts took over. He was going to punish her in a most satisfying way ... and she knew it. She was a saucy little tormenter who didn't like to lose, but she loved to rile him up, and boy did she succeed this time. He tore up the stairs knowing exactly where she'd be.

Lizzy managed to get to his room before he caught up to her. It was a challenge due to the storm. What had been a casual tour early in the day was almost a bit of maze now as the upper floors were lit only by candles. When she arrived in his chamber, she sat as casually as one could in lace undergarments, in a winged-back chair near his fireplace. She was trying to regulate her breathing, trying to appear relaxed, before he made it to his room; easier said than done after racing up stairs and down a large hallway to Darcy's suite, particularly when she had been laughing so hard. She knew she was in trouble. But then again, that's the fun part, she told herself.

She heard the doors to his anteroom open and then shut firmly, hearing the click of the lock. He definitely doesn't want to be disturbed. She smiled at the thought. She hardly heard his footfall due to his lack of shoes and socks but she definitely felt his presence moments later when the double doors flew open. His white-knuckled hands gripped the door handles and he stood there, like a taunted bull - all indignant passion, muscles flexed and tense. His glower was highlighted by the flickering flames throughout the room, making him look almost villainous. It was highly arousing.

So, of course, she teased him more. "What took you so long?" The question hung in the air like the smell of sex in a brothel. She was leading him on, working up his lather, getting him psyched to ravish her; she didn't truly comprehend how well she did it.

"You are a tease," Darcy stated.

"Me? Just trying to get you up here as quickly as possible. We've been interrupted too many times and I'm barely dressed," she countered casually, walking over to him. She stood before him, sweet, sexy and unquestionably brazen. He needed to have his say.

"Elizabeth Margaret Bennet, I have argued with myself for months on whether or not you are a tease, but I kept thinking - she doesn't really know what she's doing to me. Tonight, you proved me wrong. You know exactly what you're doing and you are a supreme tease. You nearly killed me down there! I don't think you want to have sex. I think you want me to have a coronary. Woman, you live to torment me."

Lizzy had stood unfazed, listening to his impassioned statement, allowing him to vent his frustration. She then reached up to him and gently brushed a stray curl back behind his ear. Her hand stroked his lobe, his jaw, then his cheek, finally reaching his lips where she gently placed two fingers. "A little less conversation," she paused to let the words dawn on him, "a little more action, please."

Lightening couldn't strike as fast as Fitzwilliam Darcy at that moment. Before Lizzy knew what hit her, his siege had begun. She heard the sound of the massive doors slamming behind him and was suddenly engulfed in his arms, his lips slanting harshly on hers, his tongue delving deeply and methodically in her mouth. She absorbed the heat of his bare flesh as he pressed against her and was nearly overwhelmed by the onslaught. If he hadn't been holding her, her knees would have buckled and she very well may have fainted.

But her weakness quickly passed, as the fire coursing through her body inflamed her, and soon, she was reciprocating. Her hands reached up and threaded through his curls, clutching them as if to anchor herself, not that she was going anywhere. Her tongue slipped through his lips and revelled in his taste. Her entire body responded to his, but he was all-consuming and in command.

Darcy was in his own private paradise, ready to traverse every nook, curve, dip, crease and bend of Lizzy's body. What he wanted above all, was to be ensconced in her most private of places, and it took significant mental willpower to quash his driving physical demands. Luckily, Darcy was ruled by his heart and mind and not his basic bodily instincts, so he took his time in the exploration of Lizzy's body. Even in his lust-drunk haze, her needs, and his adoration of her, gave him enough coherence to slow it down. In the end, he knew they would both savour the union far more than if he rushed.

So he took her bit by bit, first appreciating the richness of their kiss, her lips as sweet as raspberries, a taste that blended naturally with the subtle scent of lavender on her skin. She may not have had an extensive sexual history, but she knew how to give and receive a powerful kiss. It bid him to come and enjoy the rest of her and Darcy accepted the summons willingly. One hand caressed the softest spot of her neck while the other roamed to her thigh. He lifted her leg, wrapping it round his hip, forcing their arousals even closer together, but also giving him the advantage of sliding his hand under her panties and gripping her supple bottom.

Lizzy was conscience of Darcy, and absolutely nothing else - his lips against hers, his tongue playing inside her mouth, but particularly his hand. It was causing her nerve endings to tingle, as it drifted delicately over her back, all the way down to her thigh and back up again to her bottom, spreading currents of heat throughout the rest of her body. Most of all, she felt his hard body crushed against hers, and by virtue of the position of her leg, she could feel his stiffness against her belly. She wanted to give him as much pleasure as she was receiving but it was proving difficult when he had such a hold on her.

They broke away from their kiss, a mix of awe and hunger on both their faces. Darcy brought a hand to her back to support her as he dipped her low, moving the other to her throat, where it splayed and travelled over her chest. Lizzy arched her back and in one swift motion, he unclasped her bra, brushing aside the lace to reveal two perfectly aroused rose buds. He lowered himself onto a tight nipple, taking it, luxuriating in the sweet taste of her delicate skin as he listened to her whimper ferally. He looked up to see a woman being swept away, bliss showered on her face, drowning in a sea of pleasure. He was only getting started.

He brought her back to his lips, another kiss that seemed to penetrate her very bones as he skillfully finished removing her bra. He moved down her body, his tongue tracing a trail from her neck to her nipple, pausing for a moment to tickle and tease. He dropped to his knees and continued downward by placing gentle kisses on the bottom curves of her breasts. When he reached her belly button, he circled it languorously with his tongue, his hands now rubbing the sensitive spots on her lower abdomen causing her to moan rather indecorously. He withheld a chuckle while his hands moved to the waistband of her panties. They were a new style to him, as he hadn't had the pleasure of removing a woman's undergarments in quite some time. He'd no clue what they were called, but he found the scalloped edges that allowed her bottom to peak out, undeniably sexy. He'd have to give her a pair in red, to match the stockings.

As he slid the panties down, he followed with his lips, from her hip all the way to her ankles. He looked up to her, a lazy smile gracing his face and proceeded to kiss each toe, coyly worshiping at her feet. As erotic as his tour of her anatomy was, as intent as he was on seducing her, he was still playful enough to make her smile broadly. But the lighthearted moment ended quickly as he took the same route back to her mouth, this time his kisses seemed deeper, his tongue pressed a little firmer and her skin seared with his ministrations. His fingers were also free for the return journey, and paused where his mouth had not. He touched her heat, ever so gently, feeling her moistness for his own satisfaction, but also caressing her lightly, tempting her with what was to come. He didn't stay there. It wasn't yet time. His hands only caught up to his mouth when it had already reached hers and there he played - tracing her plump bottom lip with his thumb while licking her upper one. Allowing her to suck on his forefinger, he watched her taste her own juices and nearly lost his concentration.

An erotic fog had encircled Lizzy while Darcy explored her from tip to toe. She had never felt so adored or so pampered with sensuality. She seemed almost anesthetized by his expert manipulation of her body. It showed her complete trust in him, as Lizzy wasn't one to give up control of her senses easily. Touch by touch he had hypnotized her, and by the time his fingers began toying with her lips, she'd forgotten where they'd just explored, but took advantage of the opportunity to bestow some attention on him.

She grasped his hand firmly and sucked his finger - deep and tight into her mouth. They both knew what she was alluding to and their eyes locked as they both envisioned the progress of the evening. But she knew she wanted more than his slow seduction. She yearned to see him completely, to truly feel all of him against her.

She took a step back and for a moment Darcy looked puzzled. She placed the tips of her fingers on his chest and implored, "Please, let me."

He accented with no hesitation, he would give her whatever she wanted. Her pleasure was his pleasure.

She almost mirrored everything he had done. She needed him to be real to her. Her hands grazed his chest; she had yearned to touch his strong, sinewy torso and to feel his tawny skin under her lips. She inhaled his musky redolence and let her tongue taste his masculine flavour. Her fingertips drifted over his physique to the waistband of his boxer briefs. Now she was on her knees, removing his last remaining item, the one not lost in any poker bet, but freely discarded.

She kissed his hipbone delicately as she brought the briefs to the floor, her cheek brushing his erection ever so slightly. Was it on purpose or accidental? He'd no clue, but whatever it was, it nearly drove him mad.

She did not retrace her movements but stepped away from him. She gazed upon him, appreciating everything he was offering, admiring the beauty of his form and hoping she would be worthy of such a man.

He also took in the measure of her body - the fluid curves, the softness of her features. Her skin glimmered in the warm glow of the fire and candles. She looked ethereal, his own enchantress, a vision of womanly perfection, and there were no more interruptions, no more misunderstanding and no more doubts to surmount.

Before he could make another move, Lizzy neared him again. Bringing her hands to his chest, they slowly streaked down his abdomen until they reached their destination. She brought her fingers to his shaft, stroking him gently like a sculpture, acquainting herself with the contours and texture, fascinated with his reaction to her touch. She thumbed the tip where a touch of moisture had been released and she heard his sharp intake of breath. She grasped and stroked him more firmly but was unceremoniously stopped.

There was only so much a man could take while being a gentleman in the bedroom. He could no longer be tantalized by her touches without becoming overwhelmed. He swiftly wrapped both her legs around him and moved to his desired destination. He laid her down firmly, in the very middle of the bed, her hair cascading onto the pillowcase just as he had fantasized, but the reality undeniably outstripped his dreams.

The storm raged beyond the walls of Pemberley, ice pelting violently against the windows, the savageness of nature taking its toll on man's innovations as well as her own creations. Darcy and Lizzy were lost in their own storm, far less violent but no less powerful. They were unconscious of the world beyond his bed as passions that had raged inside them for months were now given leave to escape fully.

Darcy again ravaged her swollen lips as he lay next to her. His hands drifted and he delicately began to rub her already aroused sex. He felt her moan against his mouth, her hips arching in a corporeal cry for more. He was attuned to her every reaction, a slight movement or sound and he adapted his attentions. His finger gently circled her as if asking permission and when he felt her edge closer, he slowly slipped into her. He dragged his mouth from her lips to her breasts, then lower. Now was the time to taste her very essence.

Her eyelids fluttered as he caressed her inside while continuing to stimulate her fleshy folds. Her breaths were getting shorter, and she had little control over her own body. A sense of freedom overwhelmed her, but as she felt his kisses move lower and lower, she knew she needed him back at her lips.

He was slightly surprised when Lizzy gently indicated for him to return to her mouth. He so wanted to taste her passion and do things to make her scream in fulfillment. But most of all, he wanted her to be comfortable, and if she wanted to kiss him while she climaxed, he would gladly comply.

Seconds after he reached her mouth, he felt her tense and rub against his hand. She had clutched a shoulder and his hair and suddenly let out a groan, much louder than in his car the night before. In fact, all her actions were much more intense and liberated than they had been the night before.

Lizzy shook, lost in the intensity of her orgasm. Wave after wave of quivering heat washed through her body. She was a prisoner to Darcy's touch and never wanted to escape. He continued to stimulate her while she shuddered around him, prolonging her bliss, bringing out more. Her eyes rolled back, she stopped breathing and every pore of her body seemed excited by the air itself.

Darcy watched her and knew he couldn't hold out any longer. He reached for his night stand drawer and grabbed a condom, removing it from the package in record time. "Lizzy, my love, I ... I need you now, I can't wait."

Her eyes sparkled with excitement and through laboured breaths she asked, "What's there to wait for?"

Soon he was above her, bracing himself as he looked down at the beauty in his bed, but as much as he wanted to plunge into her depths, he held back. She was so tight; it had been so long for her. He couldn't just barge right in as if she were an open door. So as he lowered himself against her, guiding his erection to her sex, he teased her lightly, covering himself with her slickness, hoping her climax and his actions would help ease his entry.

Then, slowly, gently, he nudged inside, clenching his jaw in agony, holding back his true desire for her. He edged in further, his whole body like a slingshot ready to be released. She was so soft and welcoming, so wet, so hot, so engulfing.

Lizzy had been waiting for the impact, had been craving a decisive thrust ... and it hadn't come. She was ready and desperate to feel him inside her, all of him, and for some reason he was prolonging the moment. When her eyes slowly opened to see a look on his face bordering on pain, she realized he was holding back. Assuming he was taking it slow because of her lack of experience, she took matters into her own hands, literally. Grabbing his backside, she practically growled, "I want all of you, Fitzwilliam."

He was forced so deeply inside of her so suddenly, he almost lost total control. He was submerged in her flesh, afraid to move. Breathing deeply, he convinced himself he was allowing her to grow accustomed to him. The truth was he had to calm himself. The snugness his finger had felt was nothing compared to the firm pressure pulsing against his own arousal. She was consuming him. Her soft flesh molded around him, sending him to his own little piece of heaven.

Though Lizzy had acted on her need for him to enter her completely, now that he was inside her, her body was straining against his, expanding to his size. She bit the inside of her lip, adjusting to the sweet distress of lovemaking for the first time in a long time. As her body adapted, she felt Darcy slowly begin to draw out.

He looked at her intently, ensuring she was comfortable and was momentarily worried by the crease on her forehead, but as he shifted, it seemed to fade away, and he truly began his movements in earnest. If he needed any more convincing, Lizzy started rocking back and forth, her body calling for his.

Their rhythms soon united and Darcy was now on a quest for unbridled rapture. She was so lush and responsive; he was surprised by her eagerness, but he shouldn't have been. He knew Lizzy to be curious and spirited, and her passion for life was one of the things that had attracted him. Her response only confirmed all these wonderful traits.

They began a smooth and steady cadence; Darcy's solid body leaned firmly against Lizzy's as he buried himself within her time and again. He murmured words of love in her ear and whispered kisses across her face, and as she answered him, stroke for stroke, he increased the tempo further, building on their mutual pleasure. Their bodies seemed to meld together, their curves and crevices fitting perfectly like pieces of a puzzle. Darcy ground deeply into her, watching her every reaction, spellbound by the sensual feel of her writhing body, awed by the golden glow of her face, amazed she was even more breathtaking while he was loving her so intensely. As physically satisfying as the act had always been for Darcy, nothing had prepared him for the profoundness of being intimate with the one you knew you'd love forever.

Lizzy was besieged by attacks on all her senses. Darcy's burning, possessive gaze somehow also conveyed a tenderness towards her, searching for assurance that she was luxuriating in the moment as much as he was. As their passion intensified and their groove followed suit, she watched as perspiration glistened on his forehead. A droplet fell onto her neck, and he bent to lick it off, giving him a chance to voice his amorous thoughts. His words and the heat of his eyes, combined with his heavy gasps of pleasure shook her sensibilities. If her skin wasn't flushed, if they already hadn't been in the most intimate of positions, she would have blushed at his carnal potency. He coloured her senses in a kaleidoscopic haze, the hues of lust, love and devotion flowing together in a sublime offering of his deepest affections.

As she received his escalating thrusts, her emotions were conveyed through external means. She tilted and arched to meet his gyrating hips, she moaned with appreciation as he crushed against her, their bodies becoming slick with heat. The friction between them was mind-blowing and she dug her nails deep into his skin as he released any hesitancy he was harbouring to protect her delicacy.

He had craved her for so long, he had grown to adore her so, that now that the moment had arrived, every sense seemed heightened, every touch so electric, every emotion so visceral, he was completely lost. His strokes became more urgent; her reaction became more fevered. Their eyes glared at each other as they bonded, desperate to make the moment last but that frantic energy only brought them nearer to their peak.

They collided forcefully, over and over, Lizzy's legs wrapped tightly around him, her calves pushing at his backside encouraging him to burrow farther and faster. She was pushing back, her hips more often off the bed than not, and with each impact, her moans became stronger as she neared a second climax. Inside her, his throbbing pushed her limits and when she felt him grow even stiffer, it wasn't within her power to hold back.

A thousand currents of fire sliced through Lizzy, rising from her very core, an explosion akin to a bursting firework inside her body. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't think, all she felt were cascading convulsions overtaking her body. She didn't know how long it lasted, it could have been seconds, it could have been hours, and the only other sensation of which she was cognizant, was Darcy's release moments after her most powerful spasms.

He watched as she grew increasingly excited, as her body began to tense externally and internally. The vision of her in the throws of her orgasm, along with the feeling of her taut flesh around him, was too much for him to bear. With one final thrust, he erupted inside her with the force of a gusher, but his exuberance was light years beyond anything a prospector discovering oil could imagine. His primal groan was an exquisite indulgence, he rarely verbalized his pleasure with a partner so excessively, but there was no denying the way Lizzy had affected his very soul. His release was so potent, he feared he would burst blood vessels, but his worries were needless, so much blood had pooled elsewhere, he was saved from that affliction.

With this perfect fulfillment of his nightly dreams, Lizzy had brought him near exhaustion. He gracelessly collapsed atop her, his body damp from exertion, his chest bursting as he attempted to steady his breathing, his mind empty of all thought but the question of how quickly he would be able to repeat what just happened.

They lay together for some time, trying to collect their wits, reliving the moment, spreading gentle kisses on each other's faces, both revelling in the way their bodies clung together and how they'd just shared the most glorious of moments. Lizzy was the first to stir as she was rather numb from a certain weighty piece of man covering her.

"Fitzwilliam," she paused to think of a subtle way to indicate her discomfort, as well as to inhale some air, "You're a bit overwhelming."

Darcy kissed her glistening brow and whispered back, "As are you."

His earnestness was adorable; however, it started Lizzy into a fit of giggles. Darcy looked at her laughing eyes, confused and a bit worried. Once she took in another breath she explained, "Darcy, I was trying to tell you, you're a bit heavy for me."

He rolled off of her, mortified at his faux pas, but seeing her laughing so gaily, found it contagious. He chuckled in spite of himself and soon let loose, smiling brightly, showing his two perfect dimples. He lifted her onto him, holding her close; their laugh morphing into a celebration of their pure happiness in finally being together.

"Only you, Lizzy," Darcy began, shaking his head.

"Only me, what?" Lizzy asked before he finished.

"Only you could make me laugh at myself at a moment like this. You know, it could be quite demoralizing to be laughed at, right after lovemaking," he explained, staring at her beautiful eyes, so full of vitality.

"Luckily, you're a self-assured man who knows he has nothing to worry about," Lizzy countered smoothly with a small smile, her chin leaning on his chest. She then moved off of him, suddenly becoming quite pensive as she recalled their just finished encounter. "I can't believe this finally happened. Right now, it all seems so unreal."

Beginning to lift the sheets teasingly, Darcy said, "If you need proof..." He was flying high in the moment, lighthearted and jovial - emotions he'd rarely ever felt, but a certain magic potion called Lizzy brought them out of him.

"No, no, no," Lizzy answered, again laughing, quickly batting the sheets down. She was as gleeful as he, but wanted to be serious. She wanted to explain to him how he had moved her. She let the laughter die down and expressed herself in the simplest way possible. "Thank you. I don't know what else to say."

He lay on his side, leaning on his elbow to look at her. She was breathtaking - a myriad of emotions sweeping across her face. She looked happy yet wistful, sated yet somehow vulnerable. He brushed aside a wisp of hair from her cheek and replied meaningfully, "You're very welcome, but you have nothing to thank me for. It was my pleasure ... very much so."

"You made me feel ..." she paused. She wanted to say 'loved' but didn't want to be presumptuous, so she compromised. "... cherished."

She looked away before she could see his response as she quickly regretted that word. "I'm sorry, does that sound corny? I'm not very good at this, I'm afraid." Darcy now understood the significance behind her words. He took her face between his hands and forced her to look directly at him. He could see her eyes shining, holding back tears. His soul was touched - her feelings were so delicate. This confident woman, whose livelihood was based on her communication skills, was fearful of expressing herself to him. "Lizzy ... Elizabeth. You were wonderful - no, we were wonderful. You made me a better lover because you responded with your heart. You gave so much of yourself. I've never felt more alive, I've never felt as close to anyone as I do to you. You should feel cherished because that's exactly how I wanted you to feel."

The tears now flowed over her temples, but she was smiling, a huge, jubilant grin. He brushed her tears away with his thumbs and by God, he couldn't help himself, moisture was brimming around his eyelids too.

Through dewy eyes and a mouth that couldn't stop from beaming, Lizzy told her lover her truest of feelings. "Fitzwilliam Darcy, I am so in love with you."

Darcy delicately pressed his brow to hers, allowing her to feel the wetness escaping from his eyes, and easily responded to her in kind. "Elizabeth Bennet, you must know by now how much I love you. My heart has been yours for a very long time."

With a tender kiss, Darcy pulled her to his chest and watched with wonder as she fell into a peaceful sleep - the sleep of one who feels beloved.

Chapter XVI

Darcy woke in the middle of the night with a burgeoning erection, hardly surprising with a naked Lizzy wrapped around him. Her leg, stretched over his midsection, had shifted in her sleep; unknowingly turning him on. In addition, her breast rested on his chest and the heat between her legs was pressed firmly against his hip. There was only so much a man could take before his body responded accordingly.

He wondered if she'd mind if he woke her to make love again. Was she exhausted? Did such a long break cause tenderness? He'd no idea as they hadn't had the chance to discuss much before Lizzy had fallen asleep in his arms.

Except that they loved each other.

A warm flow of relief and contentment streamed through him at the thought. They were in love. She loved him. Yes, he had been confident she cared for him, and when they'd made love he knew her feelings were deep, but until she said the words, he'd only hoped.

They had come so far since their first meeting, where they'd allowed their instant attraction to manifest itself quickly and physically with miserable results. The journey to this point had seemed interminable, but it finally worked out ... and here they were, in the pleasurable aftermath of their heated, intense union. He thought back to her wicked game - she had dangled that carrot yet again and taken it back yet again, but thank goodness, this time it was only in jest. His heart couldn't take any more. Books always talked of a woman's delicate sensibilities, but a heart behind such a protective shell as Darcy's was that much more vulnerable.

Lizzy seemed to understand that, though, and when the moment arrived, her body expressed her sensitivity and devotion to him, not to mention her desire. It had been a consuming experience.

These musings ultimately wove their way back to his erection and her naked body, bringing him full circle - hot, bothered and unsure what to do.

His chest expanded with a deep intake of air as he pondered his next move. His subtle movement stirred Lizzy and she flipped over, still fast asleep. Now, however, both breasts were generously exposed to him, but more particularly to the cool air of a bedroom whose fire had long since died down and whose space heater wasn't picking up the slack. Her nipples quickly reacted, tempting him all the more.

Before he got the chance to wrap his lips around a pink peak, she shifted again - obviously her body didn't want to be exposed, and she turned her back to him as she lifted the covers up to her neck.

Even in her sleep she teases me. Darcy smiled, amused rather than perturbed by her unconscious action.

He decided not to disturb her just yet. He recalled the champagne and strawberries he had intended to use earlier but never got the chance. Perhaps that would be a nice way to pick up where we left off, he thought as he quickly slipped out of the bed, grabbed his robe and slippers, and headed downstairs.

By the time Darcy reached the main floor, the power switched back on. He glanced out a window to see the storm had abated so he snuffed out some still-lit candles and turned off some lights before reaching the kitchen.

Opening the refrigerator door, he muttered a few uncharacteristic swear words directed solely at his earlier departed cousin. No one else in the house would have the nerve to nick a bottle of vintage Veuve Cliquot and six of the ten chocolate-dipped strawberries. He probably feels like a fine, upstanding gentleman for having the courtesy to leave four,Darcy mused contemptuously.

Gathering the remaining berries, a few grapes and the champagne, he headed back upstairs, tray in hand to his room with his Lizzy, in his bed. His cousin was quickly forgotten.

~ * ~

Lizzy eyes blinked open with the sudden increased brightness of the room. She took a moment to orient herself, having never woken in such opulent surroundings, and a slow satisfied grin spread across her face. She turned to Darcy but was disappointed to find the rest of the king bed completely vacant. She looked over to see an open bathroom door but no visual sign of her man. "Fitzzzzzzzzwilliam", she called in a sing-songy voice, hoping to lure him back from wherever he was hiding. "Fitzzzzzzzzwilliam," she called out again, a bit louder, but still no response.

She couldn't help but be disappointed; to awaken in the middle of the night in her lover's bed only to find no lover next to her was not a girl's dream come true. She didn't really fear that he'd run off on her, after all, this was his home; but she hoped he wasn't attempting to distance himself after their earlier declarations. She didn't doubt his love, she just doubted the comfort he felt in saying it for the first time.

She thought of how the evening progressed and cringed at her daring. I can't believe I insisted we play strip poker. What was I thinking? She shook her head at the memory. I must learn to control my stubbornness, although it did turn out to be one damn fine way to lead up to the bedroom.

She recalled his fiery look after chasing her up the stairs and that memory alone made her long for him again, even though she was feeling the effects of two years of celibacy. How sensitive is normal? she wondered, but didn't dwell on the question as she rose from the bed to clothe herself and go search for Darcy. It gave her the chance to dress in her thigh-length aubergine negligée set. Guess it wasn't needed, she thought sardonically.

By the time she got to his anteroom, Darcy was returning from his expedition.

"That's quite the midnight snack," Lizzy quipped, seeing the bottle of champagne as well as the goodies.

"I think so." Darcy smiled appreciatively as he gave Lizzy the once-over. "Care to share some?" He nodded to her to return to the room. Lizzy chose to ignore the double entendre.

"My girlish figure will be ruined if I keep hanging out with you," she answered as she watched him place the tray of treats down on the table in front of the winged-back chair.

"I know a strenuous activity or two that may burn off those calories." His hands reached for her hips and grazed the smooth, satiny fabric draping her body.

Lizzy raised her eyebrows playfully. "Ah, a method to your midnight madness." She returned his caress, stroking his soft terry robe.

"Am I that blatant?" Darcy gave his best doe-eyed innocent look.

"I'm afraid so," Lizzy sighed, toying with the knot at his waist, but stopped and added, "But first, I want those strawberries. They look divine."

Darcy poured two glasses, passed one to Lizzy, leaving his on the table, and sat down in front of the fireplace where only embers now burned. He picked the plumpest strawberry and patted his knee, indicating to Lizzy he'd like her to join him. She smiled at his invitation and readily complied. Cozying up to Darcy was no hardship.

With Lizzy on his lap, Darcy was a contented man. After feeding her a strawberry, he stroked her smooth legs, back and forth, methodically and soothingly at first, before venturing higher under her robe, hoping to initiate another amorous encounter.

Lizzy usually loved his touch; however, his hedging upwards tickled and caused an awkward moment - she nearly sprayed champagne through her nose. Recovering quickly, she smacked his hand lightly. "Hey, let me enjoy the treats first. I'm a bit hungry, to be honest. The strawberries are wonderful, it's a shame there are only two each."

She held one to his lips but he stopped her. "No, if you enjoy them so much, have them all. We'd have more had my charming cousin not walked off with some."

"You're kidding. He stole your strawberries?"

"Six of them... and a bottle of champagne."

"Charlotte's a lucky girl."

"You should be so lucky." "What are you talking about? Luck has been on my side for some time now, particularly tonight," Lizzy said coyly, waggling her eyebrows.

"I suppose," Darcy replied languidly streaming a trail of kisses on her jaw line up to her ear.

"No suppositions," Lizzy retorted spiritedly, moving away from his seduction. "For me, everything was just perfect. I mean, I never ...never felt the way I felt with you tonight. And it's not just because I'm in love with you."

Lizzy stopped for a moment, shyly smiling up at him, not yet used to uttering those words. She continued on in a quieter voice. "Even on a purely sexual level, it was amazing. I can't even imagine what it would be like without a condom." She stopped again, bowing her head towards her chest, embarrassed by her effusions.

"Have you always used a condom?" Darcy was curious about her last statement.

"Well, no... not every time," she answered uncomfortably, not knowing why he'd want to know.

Darcy didn't understand her discomfort but thought a simple, logical suggestion would put her at ease. "Well then, why don't we try it without, right now."

His hand began to slowly slide back up her leg with the intention of progressing under her satin chemise.

"We can't," Lizzy answered with a furrowed brow as if confused by the suggestion. She rested her own hand on his to delay his progress.

"Why not?" Darcy asked. He thought she'd be pleased with the idea. It was only the rarest occasions when Darcy went without a condom. In fact, he usually did everything in his power, short of a vasectomy, to ensure his partners didn't end up with child - whether they wanted him to or not. More often than not, they would have preferred he take the risk. Only recently had he begun to think about other repercussions from going without a condom and was relieved he had been so safe in the past. He thought Lizzy would jump at the chance to make love to him au natural. He was certainly showing his trust in her. He wasn't even that averse to the possibility of an 'accident' happening. Of course, he never thought of the possibility that Lizzy would have no idea the sans-condom suggestion was so magnanimous.

"It's our first night together, we just can't," Lizzy reiterated, saying nothing to clarify her reasoning. From the look on her face, she clearly felt she made total sense.

Darcy believed he knew what the problem was. "Are you ... protected ... otherwise?" he asked as delicately as possible.

Lizzy answered in a matter of fact tone, even though, she was suddenly fascinated with the lace edging on her chemise. "Oh, yes. That may be surprising because of my total lack of memory this past week, but I'm very diligent about taking my pill."

"Then there's nothing stopping us," Darcy insisted. He saw no problems with their situation.

"We don't really know each other's-" Lizzy stopped to correct herself. "I guess we do know..." she stammered mid-sentence, not exactly sure how to express herself.

Suddenly, this new anxiety of Lizzy's became all too clear to Darcy and he felt like a self-absorbed ass. She was nervous about his sexual history, and rightly so. He only wished more young women were so cautious.Of all people, I should have thought of this,he chastised himself.

"Elizabeth," he began seriously, but decided to soften. She looked so uncomfortable. She could be so direct at times, even in the course of this conversation she was blunt, but when it affected her deepest feelings about him, she was very cautious in the way she broached the subject. "Lizzy. You have every right to worry based on what I've told you about my past and I should have realized your concerns. I want you to know, I was responsible. I used protection the majority of the time, and I do see my doctor regularly."

"I can't believe we're talking about this. Why don't we just forget it and deal with it later." Lizzy was struggling with having to discuss his somewhat sordid past on what was the most romantic night of her life. Yes, she'd love to be with him without a condom, but it wasn't that big a deal. She regretted the casual remark that started the discussion. They could talk about the possibility at a later date.

Darcy's opinion was diametrically opposed to hers. "You haven't forced me. There's no better time to discuss this than right now. I'm not worried about you, but you have a right to be concerned about me and making love to me. I just wanted to ease your fears. My last doctor's appointment was just before my birthday and I received a clean bill of health."

"How do you know you can trust me?" Lizzy asked.

"I believe you when you say you're on the pill and I'll be honest, that's a first for me. Also, you've explained your limited experience, and it was quite some time ago."

"But that doesn't mean I'm-" Lizzy stopped herself again. What was she going to say? That doesn't mean I'm disease-free? She was not going to get into this any further.

"I'm assuming you've been to the doctor's in the past couple of years," was all Darcy added with a small smile. He felt for her, he really did, but as long as they talked about it now, there was no need to ever broach the subject again.

"Well, you've got it all covered," Lizzy said, a little exasperated with the seriousness of the conversation.

A thought then occurred to Darcy. "Would you have stopped me tonight if I didn't have a condom?"

"Hell no, I brought my own!" Lizzy proclaimed suddenly no longer shy. "Really?"

"Oh, yes, they're in the drawer on my side of the bed."

"I've never had that happen."

"Really? What kind of women did you date?" She stopped and looked up at him, saying darkly. "Forget I asked that."

Darcy smiled as she continued, "I guess I'm just like a boy scout. My motto is Be Prepared."

This time he laughed. "I'm sure the Boy Scouts would be pleased to hear their motto used in this context. I must commend your responsibility. However, with your knowledge of my sexual history, I don't blame you."

Lizzy didn't want to discuss it anymore. As far as she was concerned, the topic was fully explained and they could now move on, so before he could add another word, she put her glass down, grabbed a strawberry and thrust it in his mouth. "No more serious talk about past relationships. I trust you and I know you trust me. Eat."

Darcy took a bite, his eyes warm and amused by her method of shutting him up. She was right. He'd already assuaged her worries, there was no need to rehash any gory details. They had far more important things to do, eating strawberries was only one of them.

Lizzy picked the freshest berry for him and suddenly juice began to dribble from the side of Darcy's mouth. He didn't get to wipe it off; she moved to lick it. The action caught him by surprise; however, as far as he was concerned, it gave him the go-ahead for a renewal of their earlier pursuits.

By the time Darcy swallowed the strawberry, they were locked in a vigourous kissing session that was quickly evolving into something much less innocent, fraught with heavy petting and heavier breathing.

Lizzy knew she needed to speak before she forgot to tell Darcy something important. Through short gasps and fevered strokes, she whispered, "Fitzwilliam... I have... a confession."

Darcy had been successful in removing her robe; his next obstacle her flimsy chemise. As he slipped a spaghetti strap over her shoulder, he absently murmured, "Mm-mm?"

Soon her chemise was at her waist and Darcy's hands and mouth quickly made their way to her breasts. Unlike the first time, he was more direct, but Lizzy didn't seem to mind. Her hands clutched his hair and she let out a soft groan when his mouth met a tightened bud.

She forgot what she was going to say until he carried her over to the bed, removed what remained of her clothes and took off his own robe. He was lying on top of her, kissing her neck when she remembered. "I... I'm rather ... tender."

He looked up to her with soft eyes, then continued to drag his mouth down her body as if oblivious to her words. Though he seemed to have acknowledged her, Lizzy worried he hadn't really heard what she said. As he moved to trace the curve of her torso with his tongue, he looked up again to add, "Don't worry, I'll be gentle."

Her legs wrapped around him, her hands roamed his back to his bottom, but as much as she trusted Darcy in almost every circumstance, she had seen the look on his face when they made love. Once she urged him on, he wasn't entirely conscious of his actions, so she offered what she hoped was a reasonable suggestion. "If I could go on top this time, I think it would be okay."

Her words literally stunned him and he stopped what he was doing to absorb her request, but even so, he blurted out, "I thought you said you weren't experienced?"

Lizzy laughed heartily and answered, "I may be inexperienced, but I'm not a Stepford Wife! You really think I'm the type to only accept the missionary position?"

Moving up to kiss her pouty lips again, Darcy replied rakishly, "How could I have been so foolish."

Darcy wasn't quite ready to relinquish the top to lay in wait for her onslaught. He still had things to do; namely, to thoroughly explore the pre-coitus possibilities, so he resumed his actions after adding, "Just let me have my fun with your body before you have your fun with mine."

With a playful wink, his face dipped down to her breasts and his hands caressed her curves, stroking particularly sensitive spots and meandering their way to their desired locations.

It took little time before he felt how aroused Lizzy truly was. Her physical responsiveness was reinforced by her soft, but ever-increasing moans as he massaged her gently. He slowly kissed his way to just above the dark tuft below her belly. Inhaling deeply, he readied himself to take the plunge, his anticipation elevated to mouthwatering proportions due to his missed opportunity the first time they made love. Just as he began to follow the downward slope to bliss, he felt her hands in his hair, gently urging him to halt his progress and return his oral attentions above the waist.

Somewhat surprised, a little confused and a fair bit frustrated, he complied with her indications. Lizzy could sense his disappointment so she threw herself into ensuring his thoughts were only focused on how she was touching and kissing him. He quickly forgot his personal wishes, particularly when she spoke with a voice full of need. "I want you inside me again and I don't want to wait."

A demand like that wasn't to be ignored so he rolled them over without hesitancy and watched as Lizzy straddled him. He always enjoyed when a woman wanted to be on top, not only did it free his hands, it provided inspiring visual stimulation. Having the woman be Lizzy, made the experience and view that much more breathtaking.

She held his erection in her hands and played a bit, stroking and thumbing, watching Darcy's facial expressions as she touched his shaft, then his tip. "Does this feel good?" she asked, half-rhetorically, but half-seriously as well, wanting to know exactly where she should center her attentions.

"Do you have to ask?" Darcy asked back, his breath ragged and uneven. He then implored, "Don't play too long."

With that plea, Lizzy brought his now-throbbing arousal between her legs, teasing him as he had done to her earlier, then slowly lowering herself onto him. Once she established her comfort level, she began to rock as he entered her deeper.

She was right - without a condom was definitely more intimate, a closer connection of sorts, a true melding of two into one. She also felt great pleasure in her position. It was thrilling to be in control of Darcy's sensations, to watch him watch her as she gyrated above him. She could tell he was highly turned on by the experience.

Not that Darcy wouldn't have been turned on otherwise; it was simply that being the one on bottom allowed him to concentrate more on what was happening to himself rather than focusing on Lizzy's state of arousal. He was still cognizant of her desire, but he couldn't help but notice she had it all under control. She was taking care of both of them through her rhythmic undulations. Her hands gripped his chest as her back repeatedly arched and relaxed. She was awash in the feel of him inside her, regulating her motions to ensure she felt no discomfort, only wondrous contentment.

Remembering a bit of advice she heard during a late night Sex With Sue radio show, she attempted to contract her muscles around Darcy and was immediately gratified by a husky groan from deep in his chest.

One of his hands moved to clutch her backside while Lizzy's fingers traced his lips. She allowed him to take them into his mouth, lips tight around them, his tongue stroking them inside. Watching him fall further into erotic intoxication, she also felt his bodily response as he began to buck up against her, forgetting his earlier assurances that he would be gentle. Luckily, Lizzy was beyond the point of feeling sore. The pleasures of the flesh and the adrenalin coursing through her body nullified any possible pain.

Darcy's other hand made his way to her sex and his thumb quickly joined in their rhythm, applying the sweetest pleasure to her. It almost seemed a competition as to who would succeed in bringing their lover to fruition first. Lizzy's newly found secret weapon gave her the winning edge - not that anyone could lose in this 'battle'. She gripped him and he was lost in white fire, spilling into her as he groaned in relief and satisfaction.

The knowledge of pushing him past the brink spurred Lizzy's excitement. His hot release and cries of passion culminated in her own blissful reverberations.

This time, Lizzy was the one to fall forward onto Darcy, but she did so purposely, wanting to twine herself around him completely as her body's quivering subsided. Clinging together, it was now Darcy who began a soft, deep chuckle. Confused, Lizzy glanced up to see his amused face. He spoke teasingly, "You, my dear, are not so inexperienced as you let on."

Her mouth opened in indignation with a defense of her person on the tip of her tongue, but she closed her lips to form a chagrined smile. She replied lightly, but honestly, "Just because I lack experience doesn't mean I lack imagination. It's not like I've lived under a rock all my life."

"I should have known by the way you kiss," he surmised.

She moved to his lips in riposte, delivering a luscious, searing example to prove his deduction. Once they parted, she grinned devilishly. "Yes, you should have."

Lizzy was about to get off of him and reach for some tissue when he stopped her. She looked at him incredulously. "Well, I'm certainly not going to sleep in the wet spot," she said resolutely, shaking her head and scrunching her nose in mock-disgust.

Darcy raised his eyes heavenward and sighed. He'd been so pleased when she had fallen asleep so quickly earlier and he was able to rid himself of the remnants of their lovemaking. He always found it awkward to deal with the 'disposal' issue when a woman was watching - he was a fastidious man and having an audience was not to his liking. He always worried women would find it made the whole experience a little less romantic and a lot tawdrier.

Now, she was joking about something he thought would make her uncomfortable; however, it was he who was uneasy with the situation. He wasn't going to let her clean up after him, so he swung his legs to the side of the bed, grabbed her tightly and lifted them both, saying haughtily, "Neither of us will ever sleep on the wet spot, Elizabeth."

"What are you doing?" she asked, laughing but a bit bemused by the fact he was still inside her while he carried her off.

"I thought you might join me for a shower," he answered nonchalantly, flicking on the bathroom light and punching in a few numbers on a control panel. He opened the glass shower door and finally placed Lizzy down as the jets began to beat upon their bodies at the perfect temperature.

She stood silent for a moment, enjoying the massaging quality of the water's pressure and the feel of Darcy's wet body against her. "Mmm, this is a wonderful idea," she murmured into his chest.

"Yes, it is, isn't it?" he asked back as he watched rivulets of water stream down the smooth camber of Lizzy's bare back and bottom. "It's giving me ideas. What do you say - is the third time the charm?"

Lizzy looked up at him with shocked and tired eyes. Before she had a chance to respond, Darcy realized he was pushing her limits. "It's all right. I shouldn't have suggested that. I know you may not be up to another round. I suppose I'm just too much man for you."

He said that last line with a wink and a lop-sided smirk, hoping she would take it as a joke and not a taunt. He didn't want her to feel uncomfortable. He should have realized it was a dangerous joke as Lizzy was one who always rose to a challenge, their earlier strip poker experience being a prime example. However, Lizzy had either learned her lesson or was too exhausted to argue. As if on cue, she yawned and laughed at her action. "I guess I'll just have to admit it. Right now, you are too much man for me."

"Just 'right now'?" he questioned lightly while his hands roamed the back of her body from her heavy dripping curls to under the curve of her derriere. "Is that to say in the future you'll be up to the task?"

"Oh, I fully intend to be too much woman for you someday, but right now I'm a little out of practice," she said, trying to keep their bodies from touching lest Darcy think she was playing the tease again. However, it was hard to keep away when his arms were wrapped around her.

"A little out of practice, is that all?," he asked, eyebrows raised. "And here you had me convinced you were innocent."

"Oh, I never said I was innocent," Lizzy clarified.

Looking down at her, Darcy's face suddenly became very serious. "But you would say you're a little hesitant about some things."

He noticed her avoidance of his eyes right away. She reached for some soap and carefully began to lather his chest hair, watching her own work carefully. However, he wouldn't let her off the hook so easily and quickly lifted her chin so that she had to focus on face. He then added, "I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable-"

Lizzy cut him off, surprising him when she spoke plainly. "I don't really like oral sex. That's what you wanted to know, right?"

He could tell she was rather defensive, which was the last thing he wanted, so he proceeded as delicately as possible, taking the soap from her hand and washing her back with rhythmic strokes, as if to reassure her that this conversation need not be upsetting. "Are you comfortable enough with me to explain why? Or is this too personal?"

Lizzy nearly laughed out loud at his choice of words - was she comfortable enough with him, was it too personal? For heaven's sake, they were naked in a shower after making love twice and he was wondering these things? He deserved an explanation - she knew she had thwarted his attempts twice already. She hesitated at first, but finally quietly revealed her experience. "I've only ... had someone ... go down, once. After we'd been together a few times, my boyfriend asked if I would consider giving him ... oral sex. He didn't push, he asked politely and I agreed as long as he would do the same to me. All's fair, right? So I fulfilled my part of the bargain and to be honest, I sort of liked the power it gave me. He was ecstatic and I looked forward to my turn. It didn't arouse me at all. So I never bothered asking him to do it again."

Darcy looked at her thoughtfully, stroking her arms gently with the lather from the soap as she reluctantly told her story. He didn't want to push, but he needed to know more. "Do you mind telling me how it felt?"

Predictably, Lizzy's level of shyness rose as the conversation deepened, but because Darcy was being so considerate with his questions, she closed her eyes and persevered with a choppy answer, "Um, well, I guess wet - but not from me - and ... sloppy. Ticklish and, um, well, just plain annoying. It was not enjoyable."

She looked up to him and his face looked less serious - the face of a man who knew how to solve a problem. "You've obviously never had it done right," Darcy answered matter-of-factly. "One experience prejudiced you."

Such a man. He has the solution right away. Lizzy almost threw her head back in frustration and amusement at his business-like attitude toward the whole thing. However, his opinion lightened her mood so she answered him with what she knew he wanted to hear. "And I suppose you know how to do it right."

"Well, I don't like to brag..." Darcy jested.

"You've said that once before and I don't believe you. I think you love to brag." "All right. Fair enough... maybe to you, but I guarantee you, even if it wasn't me and you had someone else do it properly - by the way, that's never going to happen - you'd be begging for it."

"I'll keep that in mind," Lizzy answered doubtfully, rinsing some soap off her arms.

"I'm serious. Why don't you let me try and I'll prove it."

"I was waiting for you to give me that kind of offer. Frankly, you're becoming predictable."

Darcy ignored her attempt to divert him with an insult. "Is that a yes?"

"That's a maybe," Lizzy admitted. "Let me sleep on it though."

"You mean I have to wait until tomorrow?" There was a distinct whine in Darcy's voice.

"Stop pouting. I do it much better; you can't compete - and yes, you'll have to wait until at least tomorrow," Lizzy corrected.

"Tomorrow, then," Darcy again ignored Lizzy's qualification. He watched as she rolled her eyes at his cockiness.

"AT LEAST," Lizzy reiterated.

"Semantics..." Darcy mumbled.

"This is an awfully big shower."

"Excellent change of topic."

"Thank you, I thought so," Lizzy acknowledged the compliment and continued on. "When I saw it earlier I thought you could fit three people in it, now that I'm in here, I think it could fit about five."

"I'd never really thought about it. Three, huh? Aren't you the kinky one."

"Hey, I'm not the one who actually owns the shower. I'm sure someone else must have commented on its size before." Although Darcy didn't seem to notice, Lizzy's insecurity revealed itself again with her last comment. She assumed other 'guests' would have said something. She turned around as if examining the jets in detail. She just didn't want him to see her face.

"Well, I'm the only one who's ever used it, so no one else has had the opportunity, but you," Darcy answered innocently, taking the opportunity to massage her shoulders.

Lizzy wasn't ready to buy that line. "You'd have me believe that no one has ever been in this shower but you?" she asked skeptically.

"Why wouldn't you believe it?" Darcy asked bewildered. He was able to follow Lizzy's train of thought from time to time, but this one wasn't connecting.

She turned to face him again. "Come on. You've told me of your past conquests. Where the heck did you take all these women if it wasn't to your bedroom?" She hated the sound of her voice and the question she asked. It was jealous and petty and she wanted to take it back. She had railed Darcy enough about his jealous streak that she knew she didn't have a right to throw these things at him.

Darcy was more circumspect. He knew she was insecure, he certainly understood jealousy and he knew the truth would ease her worries. "Elizabeth," he began with an air of gravity, his eyes gazing steadfastly at hers. "I've never brought anyone to this bedroom but you."

She didn't doubt the veracity of his comment and as emotional as the night had been for her, she was again moved to tears. She swallowed hard and hoped he didn't notice her demeanour through the water of the shower. She hated to be a weepy, overwrought female. When she was finally able to speak, she chose her words carefully as his admission had been a true eye-opener. "I know you told me you've never been in love and your words and actions tonight prove the depth of your feelings for me, but for some reason, to know no one has ever been here before, it just adds that bit of concreteness to it all."

He brought her close to him again, wrapping her in his strong, secure arms. He was relieved he alleviated her worries. Lizzy appreciated the quiet moment; however, she soon reverted to humour to lighten the heavy atmosphere. In a playful voice, she spoke her thoughts. "I don't know how you managed to keep someone like Caroline out of here."

"How dare you bring up her name and my miserable mistake tonight," Darcy replied in mock objection.

"I'm just trying to figure out how you could keep women out of here. I would have thought they'd be tearing down your doors," Lizzy replied logically.

"Haven't you noticed the heavy bolts?" Darcy joked.

"Well, all I'm saying is if you didn't let me come here, I'd be suspicious."

"I just made sure we ended the evenings at their place," Darcy answered before thinking so then added, "Elizabeth, do we have to discuss-"

"Is that what you were doing with me?" Lizzy cut in, again letting her insecurity get the best of her.

Darcy looked down sharply. "No! It was never like that with you. Do you doubt me?"

Lizzy looked incredibly sheepish when he posed that question. He assured her so many times and yet she still questioned him. She looked into his eyes with regret. "No. I don't doubt you. I'm sorry. I'm just being an insecure little girl - totally not me and not very mature. Let's change the subject again."

"Well, I think we better get out of here before we turn into prunes," Darcy suggested, turning off the water.

Exiting the shower, Darcy wrapped Lizzy in the plushest towel she'd ever felt. He insisted on drying her and although his slow, soft strokes were of no use in absorbing the water; they did aid in his own personal enjoyment. She playfully took control of her own towel and he sulked while drying himself.

She grabbed another towel for her hair and said, "I'm just going to towel it down. I'd need to blow dry it for it to really get dry."

"Well, why don't you?" he asked opening a cupboard to retrieve a hairdryer.

"Won't it be a little loud? I wouldn't want to wake-" Lizzy stopped herself when she saw the sardonic smirk on Darcy's face. A low rumble could be heard from his chest. Realizing what she'd said, she quickly quipped, "Now I understand what they mean by mind-blowing sex. I must have lost a few brain cells tonight."

Darcy just shook his head, kissed her bare shoulder and turned on the dryer for her. He loved that she could laugh at herself.

The vision Lizzy encountered upon returning to bed was a shirtless Darcy with covers to just below his chest, his eyes closed and a delighted grin on his face. She knew he wasn't asleep. "What are you thinking?" she asked warily as she climbed under the sheets.

Opening one eye and leaning toward her, he looked at his precious Lizzy and enjoyed answering her nosy question truthfully. "What I'm going to do to you tomorrow."

With a huff, Lizzy rolled her eyes and shoved him away from her, but he acted quickly by grabbing her arms and wrestling her into his embrace. Her resistance was a pretense; she had no wish to be anywhere else.

Turning out the light, Darcy wrapped his arm around Lizzy before saying, "Just in case you think I'm fickle, those words I said to you earlier - you know - I love you? Well, they still apply."

"What a relief!" Lizzy answered his humour in kind. "But you know, I'm not so sure I can say the same. I mean, it's been more than four hours."

"Well, then," Darcy whispered close to her ear, inhaling the scent of her freshly showered skin. "What can I do to rectify these doubts?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe a little kiss or two might remind me of why I said what I said," Lizzy answered pertly.

Darcy delivered. The slow, easy touch of his lips destroyed any sarcasm left between them. After all their physical contact - their empassioned touches over every inch of their bodies, Lizzy still melted over the power of his kiss. When they parted, she took a deep breath and said, "Don't ever let me joke about my love for you again. Because I don't think I could handle it if you joked about yours. I love you."

"Of course you do. I never doubted it. I just wanted to kiss you again," Darcy teased but with a soft smile on his face. She laughed appreciatively and planted one last quick kiss on his lips before she snuggled under his arm. He finally let her get more sleep, truly eager to have her rest up for the remainder of their weekend.

Chapter XVII

Darcy woke first again. He thought he'd be romantic by showering delicate kisses over her face to wake her. It would have been an idyllic first morning together had Lizzy actually stirred. However, she remained in deep slumber, thereby urging Darcy to perform less innocent actions on her person. His kisses slipped down her neck and he paused to nibble at her shoulder, brushing off the strap of her chemise, giving her one last chance to wake up to his sweet gesture. She smiled dreamily, but her eyes remained firmly shut.

I tried, he thought as he carefully moved her top below her chest to allow for his lips to shift lower. Soon they encircled a rosy tip, and finally Lizzy was slightly roused; a sigh escaped her mouth but her eyelids did not open. Rather frustrated at her non-complicity, Darcy couldn't tell if she was truly asleep or not. His naughty streak could no longer be held back and with a strenuous suck, he had his result. Her eyes flew open as she sat up straight. "Ow!"

In a blur of purple satin and before Darcy knew what hit him, Lizzy straddled and pinned him down. "You are a bad, bad boy," she chastened, her eyes flashing. She proceeded to lay flat on top of him, crush ing her entire body along his, still keeping his arms pinned.

Darcy was already sporting his morning glory and having Lizzy back on top of him 'glorified' him further. "I tried to wake you nicely and you ignored me. Your subconscious obviously likes it unladylike," he explained, clearly pleased with himself.

"Unladylike? Is that any way to talk to the woman you love?" Lizzy gave him an exaggerated pout.

"Absolutely..." Darcy's voice was as smooth and dark as chocolate. "I happen to think being unladylike is extremely appealing, particularly when you're in my bed."

She responded by lowering herself to his lips to luxuriate in a lazy awakening rather than a wrestling match. Soon they were lost under the covers, entwined and impassioned in another steamy confirmation of their affection.

Their lovemaking was more languid and less intense than their previous encounters - that's not to say it was any less passionate. The two were still discovering each others' bodies; they just had a little more experience this time around.

Afterward, Darcy lay contented, cuddling Lizzy against his body. He heard her sigh and smiled - she was sated, but he was already pondering how much more they could do in a weekend. He'd always had a healthy sex drive, but being with Lizzy created a whole other dimension of desire. There were so many aspects of their lovemaking he already adored - the smoothness of her skin against his, her distinctive fresh scent, but he believed what he enjoyed most was her unrestrained vocal response.

He knew she was completely unaware of the random deep groans that escaped from her lips, the sounds made him well aware of his ability to gratify her. He also knew she was entirely conscious of the urging words she had begun whispering in his ear when one of them neared their climax. Those words gave her power over his pleasure and he was thrilled she did it. He was undecided; however, if she knew she let out little whimpers when she wanted him to continue stroking, kissing or licking a singularly receptive spot - they seemed so natural, yet it was as if she was pointedly asking him to continue. He treasured her sounds, and her contented sigh was yet another he absorbed and memorized.

He, again, lifted Lizzy to the shower, at first ignoring her numerous teasing remarks about his obsessive cleanliness.

"You once called me a prude," Lizzy finally accused. "I'm starting to think you have your moments too."

Darcy surprisingly shook his head in agreement as he placed her in the shower."You're probably right. I'll have to get over it," he answered casually. "Especially when we have sex in the rest of the house. I can manage lifting you from the bed, but it's quite a hike to haul you from the game room."

Watching Darcy's mouth broaden into a puckish smile, Lizzy gasped in mock-indignation and jokingly swatted him, unable to withhold her laughter.

Darcy ignored her, instead bestowing his attentions on her body, attempting to be ever-so-helpful by washing her most delicate parts, but soon noticed her grimace as she subtly try to move his hands away.

"What's wrong?" he asked, concerned by the look. "Am I hurting you?"

"As wonderful as non-stop sex can be, Fitzwilliam, it's a little bit harder on me than you," Lizzy replied, trying to sound blasé.

Her tone did nothing to calm Darcy. "Why didn't you say something? We didn't have to-"

"I wanted to, don't doubt that. If I didn't, we wouldn't have," Lizzy assured him firmly.

Darcy smiled slightly at her assertiveness but still wasn't comfortable with the idea that she was hurting and it was his fault. He tried to mirror her and be light-hearted. "So you can't resist me, even if it causes you pain?"

"The pain is temporary, the pleasure lasts much longer," Lizzy said leadingly over her shoulder as she exited the shower. As she draped a towel around her body and stood at the sink to towel off her damp hair, he stood behind her, his eyes staring at her earnestly. She looked back at him with a pleasant expression, hoping he would let the matter drop. She was wrong.

"Elizabeth," he said seriously, "I don't want you in any type of pain. There 's no need of it. I've had more sex overnight than I've had in months so it' s no hardship to ease up. I'm quite satisfied in simply spending the weekend with you here. If you need to take things a little slower for your body to adjust, that's fine."

Lizzy's eyes remained on his in the mirror but they softened, letting her guard down, allowing him to fuss over her. "You're a sweetheart underneath the façade you give to the rest of the world, you know? How did I get so lucky to see the softy you really are?"

He looked at her for a moment, a witty reply on his tongue, but decided to answer her thoughtfully. "You chiseled and hammered away with more determination than anyone has ever tried, and sometimes you didn't even know you were doing it," he admitted, his arms enveloping her as he placed his chin on top of her soft curls, dipping his face into them to inhale her loveliness.

She smiled back at him through the mirror, her eyes acknowledging his genuine answer, but it did remind her of why they were having the conversation.

"Alright, I'll be honest. I could use a few hours without your hammering." Lizzy looked up at him from under her eyelids with a sparkle.

He chuckled and she even suspected a faint blush on his face, but even with his embarrassment he took the opportunity to inform her, "You know, there are gentler ways for me to-"

"I know, I know, you never quit," she laughed. "But for now, why don't I get us some breakfast."

"Why don't I get it for you?"

"Did you think you were going to leave this bedroom this weekend? I'll just grab us some juice, some fruit and some yummy muffins I saw last night. We can have breakfast in bed. It's cozier than eating with Jane and Charles."

"Mmmm... I'd forgotten about them. Maybe I should go down," Darcy suggested while watching Lizzy put on her negligée set.

She looked down and realized she'd no desire for Charles to see her that way and grabbed Darcy's robe. What was knee length on him, made it to her ankles, and the arms had to be rolled up about four times, but it covered her and didn't make her trip so she grabbed the tray he had brought the night before. "There, will that do?"

Kissing her, he answered, "I think I like this look for you in public."

"Don't hold your breath."

~ * ~

Lizzy blithely skipped down the stairs and into the kitchen, her inner happiness spilling out of every movement she made. Her face was graced with a small, satisfied smile, her bare toes wiggled against the hardwood flooring and everything in between seemed to exude joy.

Though she had reminded Darcy of the presence of Jane and Charles, by the time she reached the kitchen her mind had wandered to moments that consisted solely of her and Darcy. She was in the proverbial other world.

Stacking her tray with goodies, she absently hummed one of her favourite tunes, Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love, and laughed out loud at the appropriateness.

"I take it the two of you made up," said a voice from behind Lizzy's back causing her head to jerk around quickly. Jane sat sipping coffee in the breakfast nook. Lizzy hadn't even noticed her or the aroma of freshly brewed java when she'd entered the room.

"Made up?" she asked, confused.

Jane smiled at her sister's transparent demeanour. She wondered if Lizzy remembered anything of the previous evening prior to entering Darcy's bedroom. "When I left, you and Darcy were none too happy with each other."

"Oh," Lizzy giggled girlishly. "That changed."

"So I gather," Jane said simply, again with a calm, small smile. "And did Darcy let you quit or did you win?"

"Poker? Oh, Darcy won," Lizzy answered, but realizing the implications of such an admission, she looked away. She didn't see the shock on Jane's face. "You mean he made you play until the end?"

Lizzy told her sister many things about her personal life, but since the game had turned into foreplay, she wasn't particularly forthcoming with details. "Uh-huh."

Jane was upset with both Darcy and Lizzy for letting this happen. With exasperation evident in her voice, she asked, "But what about Richard?"

Turning back to face Jane, Lizzy saw her horror at the idea. Suddenly the two playing to the bitter end didn't seem so lurid. "Jane! Did you think-" she stopped her question to give a clear answer about Richard's whereabouts.

"He left in the middle of the storm? Did you try to stop him?" Jane now questioned Richard's sanity.

"Darcy asked him if he thought it was wise. Richard's a big boy, though. I don't think we could have changed his mind even if we wanted to ... and at that point we really didn't want to. Don't worry, he took Darcy's Range Rover."

Jane absorbed this information, utterly bewildered. Given her history, it wasn't surprising she questioned why anyone would risk going out in such driving conditions. She obviously couldn't relate to the thought process of a determined, horny man. She gave up trying and returned to her earlier query.

"So Darcy won."


"And you're obviously okay with that."

"He's a fine poker player, and I shouldn't have questioned his abilities."

Jane looked up over her coffee mug and let out a single chuckle. She couldn't resist saying, "Oh, he must have been great in bed last night."

"JANE!" Lizzy didn't expect that from her ladylike older sister - for heaven 's sake, she didn't even curse.

"What?" Jane stared back at her sister, a saintly look upon her face, but it soon was replaced with a sly grin that progressed to a hearty laugh, even though she tried to stifle it.

Lizzy walked over and sat with her, her eyes bulging waiting for her sister to stop. However, the harder Lizzy looked at her, the more she laughed until finally Lizzy joined in. "He was." She barely managed to answer, nodding her head to make sure Jane understood.

After a moment, Lizzy became serious. "He really was. It was never like that with anyone else befo-"

Lizzy stopped, hoping she hadn't said too much, but her sister was too quick. "Are you saying last night was the first time you two were together?"

I have to learn to think before I speak. Now I know how Darcy got in so much trouble with me, Lizzy mused. Since she had pretty much admitted the fact, she didn't try to deny it to Jane. "Yes, it was. We were hoping for a nice quiet evening and then you showed up with Charles... and then Richard! Do you know, my dear sister, you've interrupted us twice?"

"But, what about in between that time and now?" Jane asked before realizing it was probably too personal.

"It's a long story and one I don't wish to repeat."

"So we're here infringing on your first weekend together?" Jane asked, ashamed of her part in all this. She felt awful for the two.

"Yup." Lizzy confirmed but added, "You don't have to leave. I don't blame you for being here. The weather is just terrible."

"Don't worry." Jane was rather agitated. She hated being in anyone's way. "We'll head out as soon as Charles comes down."

"But it's dangerous out there," Lizzy protested.

Jane smiled another knowing smile. This morning, her sister had no concept of the world around her. "Have you looked out a window today? The storm ended in the middle of the night. The ice melted early this morning. Everything is wet, not frozen. It's perfectly safe outside."

"Well, in that case..." Lizzy began leadingly.

"We can go and you can continue on with your weekend." Jane finished Lizzy's thought. "Maybe I'll go and find Charles."

Lizzy searched the kitchen, successfully locating a carafe for coffee and headed back upstairs to tell Darcy they were finally alone.

~ * ~

Jane and Charles made their way down the stairs with what little belongings they'd brought the night before but for a sock Charles seemed to have misplaced. Though Jane didn't keep much from Charles, she hadn't elaborated on what she knew about Lizzy and Darcy. She didn't feel he needed to know. Her knowledge of the private matters that unfolded last night was exactly that - private. Unfortunately in the privacy of Pemberley, the master of the house and her sister had made a strategic error

Jane entered the Drawing Room first and immediately zeroed in on a garter belt in the middle of the floor. She quickly kicked it aside and looked for any other of Lizzy's intimate apparel. Luckily, the only thing of her sister 's that remained seemed to be her jewellery.

However, after picking up his stray sock, Charles was first to notice a stack of neatly placed clothing on one of the chairs around the table. In addition to Darcy's apparel, hanging out of his discarded trouser pocket and out of view of Jane's eagle eyes, was a single black stocking. Charles, of course, came to his own conclusions. "Looks like the Bennet girls are card sharks after all! Unless Richard reduced Darcy to his boxers - which I highly doubt. Oh, I can't wait to rub this into Darce. Do you think she made him take it all off?"

Jane decided she'd prefer to tell Charles what really happened - no need to let the boys tell stories amongst themselves, especially when her little sister was involved.

"Actually, Darcy won. Lizzy told me earlier. Richard left to meet Charlotte at the hotel and the two competitors carried on... " Jane paused and looked around, "... to the bitter end, it would seem."

Charles was stunned, taking in a whistling breath. "Darcy took all of this off and won? There must have been some show going on here." He said that last bit out loud by accident; however, he was too amused with the whole situation to worry about Jane's interpretation. He may have been reduced to his boxers but it looked like Darcy was as well, much more difficult for Darcy to swallow than he.

"Excuse me," Jane interrupted his thought. "I'd rather you not think of my sister in terms of a show."

"Oh. OH!" Charles realized his earlier statement. He tried to backtrack. "I meant the two of them - they're fierce competitors, you know."

"Right," Jane replied, cocking her head. "Nice try."

Charles Bingley had always hated his fair colouring. He was constantly getting caught in a lie or a joke because he never failed to blush in uncomfortable situations. This unfortunate habit was now in full force with Jane's skeptical eyes staring at him. He worried she would be upset at him for picturing Lizzy losing the game.

Luckily, Jane wasn't the jealous sort (she never needed to be), and merely enjoyed watching her man squirm. "That's why I love you, Charles. You can't hide a thing." She finally freed him from his guilt trip.

He shrugged his shoulders knowing there was nothing else he could do, but his mind was quickly onto the next shocking discovery and he pointed to them with great zeal, totally forgetting Jane's scolding. "The 'Get Lucky' cufflinks! Whoa! What happened here for him to just leave them out in the open downstairs? He must have been hugely distracted."

"Charles," Jane warned, but his thoughts were working overtime.

"Lizzy must be one wild woman for him to lose control like that. What did she do to him?" he wondered aloud, truly amazed at Darcy's apparent loss of sense.

"Charles," Jane repeated sternly, but he was still focussed on those damn cufflinks.

"But why was he wearing them? I mean, it wasn't like he and Lizzy aren't..." Charles knew enough not to finish that sentence but he'd already jumped to another idea. He was too wrapped up in a plan to truly ponder why Darcy was actually wearing them. "Maybe I should take them. He'd freak if he thought he lost them. It'd be awesome to see him lose his cool." He moved towards the revered objects, his mind already formulating the moment when he'd present them to his friend.

Jane had had enough of his silliness. He could be such a little boy sometimes, so she spoke with a subtle, leading sound to her voice. "Charles, why would you want those 'Get Lucky' cufflinks in your possession?"

"To provoke Darcy, of course." Charles did not catch her drift. She obviously needed to be more direct.

"I'm not sure I like the idea of you feeling the need to have them."

"Well ... I ... uh ... of course, I don't need them," Charles stammered, finally understanding her inference and knowing he was in trouble again. "I guess it wouldn't be that funny, would it?" He placed the cufflinks back on the table, resigned to the fact he wouldn't get to ruffle his friend's all-too-smooth feathers.

Jane turned to leave, confident Charles would follow without trying to sneak Darcy's belongings. And just in case he thought twice, she questioned him over her shoulder. "You know, you never explained to me why you had those in the first place. You certainly never wore them at the beginning of our relationship. Is there something you'd like to share?"

Charles followed quickly, actually he sped past Jane to open the front door for her. He finally spoke as if he never heard her last question. "Jane, darling, do you have anything you'd like to do today? Anything at all? I'm at your disposal."

Jane smiled her sweet, serene smile. She really didn't care what Charles had done in his past, she was simply happy with the knowledge that those cufflinks would always help her in a sticky situation. All thought of Lizzy and Darcy and what happened in the Drawing Room were now a distant memory in Charles's mind.

~ * ~

Lizzy and Darcy's intimate weekend continued, but in a much more platonic manner. Though Lizzy had proclaimed she wasn't letting her man out of the bedroom, she recanted, but only so far as his sitting room. She wanted him to tell her about his book collection. Since seeing the vast amount of books in his own room rather than a library, she was fascinated and terribly curious. "So are these all first editions, favourite books of yours or books by your firm? Am I in front of what amounts to something worth their weight in gold?"

Darcy absently handled a leather-bound volume he had taken from the shelf for no other reason but for Lizzy asking about his collection. He took every opportunity to enjoy his books. It was his profession but also his passion. "The books in the cases on the far right are first editions published before the middle of the 19th century. They're quite precious. Have a look if you like. The next case is first editions from my publishing house since I took over, but my other first editions, most of the ones from the 20th century and a little before, are stored for safekeeping." "Why?"

"From the mid-1900s on, printers began to use cheaper paper with chemicals. That type of paper is still highly popular. Heat, light, almost anything reacts with these books over time and they're easily destroyed. It takes very little for most new books to become yellow and brittle within 20 or 30 years. "

Darcy watched intently as Lizzy stroked a row of books in the shelf next to them with a certain amount of reverence. It had been only an hour or two since they'd made love, but watching her soft touch incited urges in him he had tried to suppress for her sake. He couldn't help visualize her from earlier in the day, her fingertips stroking his chest in a similar manner. He didn't know how long he'd make it before needing to have her again. His desire hadn't abated since finally making love, if anything; it had increased knowing how responsive she was. Knowing her present discomfort, however, helped quash the idea of acting on his thoughts.

Luckily, Lizzy didn't notice the look of longing on his face. "I remember Dad talking about the fact that a book from the 1700s would be in better condition than something published 50 years ago. He did mention there is paper out there that publishers could use to rectify the situation, and it's even around the same price as the chemically produced paper, but he said because publishers are so used to using the same printing houses, they just don't bother to change."

"He's absolutely right. Not all of them though. When I began to run our firm, I changed our printing contracts to a company that used better paper. That's why first editions from Darcy Publishing can be placed next to the older ones."

"Aren't you the progressive publisher? I'm sure my dad would commend you."

"I'd really like to meet him if you'd let me," he stated simply.

Lizzy hadn't expected that. She knew how uncomfortable Darcy had been the day he joined them at their home, and she'd always assumed her mother had tarnished the rest of her family's reputation. She was touched at his asking permission. "It would be my pleasure to introduce the two of you. I hadn't really thought about the fact you'd have a lot in common, at least with regards to books."

"Yes, it sometimes slips my mind that your father is an archivist. I'm sure our company has had dealings with him from time to time. You probably know a lot more about the publishing industry than I realized." Darcy smiled.

Lizzy shrugged in self-deprecation. "Not that much... but I always did like to talk to Dad about it because his work meant so much to him. Of course, maybe the archives were just a great way for him to escape a house full of females."

After thinking about the possibilities of her two favourite men meeting and the aforementioned house of estrogen, she offered what she thought was a good alternative. "We could plan a lunch downtown sometime."

"Are you still afraid of taking me to your house?"

"You mean to my mother? I'm just afraid of her crass comments. We tend to ignore her so she'll go on to other things but you may not be able to. That' s why you heard what you heard the day of the barbecue." Lizzy stopped and gave him a pointed look. "So, if you're prepared to do as we all do, then you're welcome to meet them all officially."

"I'd love to." Darcy gave her a quick cuddle but didn't go further. Even talking of her parents didn't seem to dampen his ache for her. He glanced over to the doorway of his room ruefully knowing it would be a while.

"I'm not sure you really want to use the word 'love' in this situation," Lizzy said wryly, not noticing his frustration due to thoughts of an introduction she was wanting to avoid. She didn't doubt Darcy could survive another encounter with her mother but she didn't know if she could survive watching it.

~ * ~

Conversation rather than consummation remained the order of the day as it continued. Darcy began to notice Lizzy found it difficult to remain detached as well. They had waited so long to be together that they hadn't gotten their fill yet. He tried to keep their provocative banter, their touching and their longing gazes to a minimum. Lizzy did the same; though they both couldn't help but laugh at moments when they knew they were biting their respective tongues or looking down at the floor to suppress a smoldering thought from escaping.

On their way out for a walk, they stopped in the Drawing Room and noticed their clothes still at the poker table. Lizzy picked up her jewellery but noticed Darcy's eyes widen while he quickly snatched his cufflinks and muttered a swear word.

"What's up?"

Startled out of his focussed thought but still in shock at being so careless, he answered honestly, "I can't believe I left these out in the open."

"Are they an heirloom? Why should you worry? This is your house."

"Well, Charles... nevermind."

"Charles? Charles wouldn't take your cufflinks."

"Nevermind. It's nothing, Elizabeth."

"Oh, no you don't, Mr. Darcy. You are a man who rarely gets agitated, and you're upset over leaving cufflinks around? Explain."

Darcy then gave Lizzy the sanitized version of the cufflink story, the one he gave Jane the night he was going to see Lizzy at the Queen's reception. He didn't sanitize Charles's use of them, thereby giving Lizzy the impression Charles prized them for more nefarious reasons, thus wanting to smuggle them out of the house. She was satisfied by the answer, although she couldn't understand why Darcy would think Charles would steal them. Boys will be boys, she thought as they returned briefly to their room with their belongings before heading out.

Although November wasn't the best time to show off Pemberley's grounds, Darcy wanted to have a look to make sure there wasn't any damage from the storm. They felt refreshed as they walked along pebbled trails in the trees and more formal interlocking brick paths in the gardens of the ten acre estate. Lizzy could tell that for most of the year, Darcy's 'backyard' was a stunning oasis of peace and solitude. She could visualize him reading his beloved books on a garden bench or perhaps in his more whimsical moments, against a thick tree trunk. She let herself fantasize about sharing these times with him in the summer and dared to imagine that maybe this was where she'd spend a good part of her life.

Being outside also gave them the added security of layers of clothing, thereby assisting them in keeping their hands to themselves. They toured the property arm in arm, Lizzy snuggling into him as if it was much colder than the thermometer read. Darcy didn't protest. It was as much intimate contact as they'd had since their shower that morning, and though he had learned to be a patient man with Lizzy, an idea formed in his mind.

After their walk, the two found themselves back in Darcy's sitting room. Lizzy made a pot of tea to help warm them up and then excused herself, deciding to collect her clothing from where she had thrown it in his bedroom the night before. Picking up each item, she noticed her garter belt was missing. She was slightly embarrassed at the possibility of Jane or, even worse, Charles noticing the belt on a stair or on the floor. She headed down to the Drawing Room telling Darcy she missed something when she had collected her jewellery earlier.

Lizzy rummaged around the room for awhile, finally finding her unmentionable on the floor behind a large vase in a rather obscure area. How did it get here? she wondered, but didn't think too much about it. The little details of the night didn't seem that important. She pocketed the garter belt, stopped to pick up a few cookies in the kitchen, and headed back upstairs.

When she returned to Darcy's bedroom, she found it empty, just as she had the night before. I don't like this trend, she thought petulantly. She placed the cookies down on the table by the fireplace where she noticed a small hand-written note.

I got tired of waiting. I'm in the sauna.

Feel free to join me.

She smiled; it was as if he'd read her thoughts the day prior about living in his bathroom. "Twist my rubber arm, Mr. Darcy," she said aloud as she walked into what she thought should really be called his own personal spa.

She undressed, wrapped a towel around her and opened the door. What her eyes encountered upon stepping inside rendered her speechless ... well, almost speechless. She'd no idea she'd let out a gasp.

Darcy was leaning against the wall, lounging on the upper bench of the sauna with his eyes closed and one leg bent strategically. More importantly, the man before her was stiking; completely naked with a sheen of perspiration covering his body. He looked as striking as a Herb Ritts photo. Lizzy was immediately and significantly aroused.

"This isn't the sauna at your gym, Lizzy." Darcy's deep voice interrupted her overt inspection. She hadn't even noticed he'd opened his eyes.

"Sorry?" She shook her head slightly, having totally missed what he said.

"There's no need for a towel," he explained, thinking she didn't get his joke.

"Oh, oh yeah," Lizzy answered, not yet recovered from her body's response.

Darcy could read her mind, mostly because her emotions were clearly defined on her face. He was flattered, pleased and amused, as it wasn't often he was able to fluster his beloved Ms. Bennet so. He savoured the moment.

She placed her towel on the upper bench and leaned on the opposite wall, unsure what to do or where to look next. It wasn't that she was uncomfortable seeing Darcy naked - quite the opposite. It was that the image of him so relaxed and, well, erotically displayed, was building currents of desire throughout her body that all converged in one particular area - an area that was still recovering from the very thing he was inspiring her to do.

Darcy couldn't help the smirk from emerging on his face, but he wasn't worried as Lizzy didn't seem to be paying attention to his face. She had teased him so often the night before, not to mention several other times in their acquaintance, that he was thoroughly relishing giving some of the medicine back. He knew she wasn't ready to make love, and he would never force her into anything, but he was tempting her anyway with a singular motive in mind.

He took it slow. Casually sliding his foot over hers, he started to caress it absently while asking, "So, did you get everything you needed from downstairs?"

Lizzy had at first been relieved he'd decided to play footsie. It gave her something innocuous to fix her eyes upon. However, the sensual motion eventually caused her to look at the leg attached to said foot, which caused her to look higher...

She snapped her head back at Darcy's question and had to think hard before answering, ensuring she'd heard him properly. So lost in her thoughts, she was still utterly oblivious to his smug visage.

"Uh... uh-huh." Trying to sound rational and calm, she added feebly, "I brought up some extra cookies."

Beads of perspiration began to form over Lizzy's body, and though she logically knew it was the warmth of the sauna affecting her temperature, she couldn't help but wonder if she'd be just as steamy had the thermometer read zero degrees.

"Sustenance for afterwards." Darcy's voice was low, taking on a mellifluous intonation. He didn't mention what he meant by 'afterwards'; he didn't need to. He was inundating her with his charm and it was working magically. He was almost disappointed in her as she usually caught onto his overt flirtations. She'd seen them enough in the past to know what he was doing.

His foot continued to stroke hers, and she let her head fall back against the wall, closing her eyes. Oh, I should have thought of this before. If I can't see him, maybe I can calm down. She was slightly relieved by this thought.

She was finally relaxing when his foot began to slowly crawl its way up her leg. It took a leisurely route, as if it were out for a stroll and decided to take the road less travelled. But Darcy knew exactly where he was going.

When his toes reached a certain point of her inner thigh, Lizzy smartened up. She grabbed his sole and opened her now fiery eyes, however she spoke quite flippantly. "I'm afraid I don't have a foot fetish, Fitzwilliam."

"That's a shame, now, isn't it?" he replied, his voice deep but definitely not serious.

She maintained a hold on his foot and eyed him suspiciously, carefully keeping only his face in focus. "What are you up to?"

"What do you mean?"

"Come on. Your foot doesn't just slither up my leg for no reason." Her steady gaze was fixed on his eyes; eyes that clearly showed he knew he was misbehaving and delighting in it.

"I thought you'd like it," he said, noticing her efforts to avoid glancing at his body.

"That's not exactly the point."

"Are you uncomfortable with me being naked?" he asked, somewhat confused. She certainly hadn't seemed uncomfortable at any other time. "No."

"Then why are you avoiding looking at my body?"

Lizzy decided to be frank. "This morning I was praising you for being such a sweetheart, understanding my ... need to wait a little while. Then I come in here to a seduction scene. You're lying there looking like a Greek god and invite me to sit where I have a view to die for. Then your foot takes its little expedition. I'm only human, Fitzwilliam. You're not making things easier." She stared at the cedar ceiling in frustration.

Darcy suddenly got up and took her by the hips, sitting her properly on the upper bench, back to the wall with her legs dangling. Her tiptoes just reached the lower seat. He moved to stand between her legs and held her hands. "So, I arouse you?" He wanted to hear her say it.

"What do you think? I haven't made love three times since last night solely based on our intellectual discourse."

"And here I thought you loved me for my mind."

"That... and a whole lot more," Lizzy countered, finally looking him up and down. That was her downfall. She couldn't resist sliding her hands over his chest, his firm stomach and his slim hips. Before she knew what she was doing, her hands slipped over his bottom, cupping him at those sexy little dents that proved how tight his backside really was. Snapping out of it, she shook her head.

"This isn't getting us anywhere. I'm just going to get more and more frustrated. You said you'd be patient. This isn't fair."

Darcy moved in for the kill. He gently kissed and nibbled her neck, his hands placed lightly on her shoulders. He had completely ignored her words but somehow what should have been irritating to her was clouded by her deep physical need for him.

"I'd like to use my second wish, please," he murmured, only a wisp of air between their lips.

"Excuse me?" Lizzy was lost.

"My second wish from my genie. I've only used one so far. I'd like you to let me satisfy you through the manner we discussed," he explained logically while remaining dangerously close to her.

Lizzy looked uncertain, but before she could protest, he rhythmically stroked her cheeks with his thumbs and elaborated. "I'll take my time, and if you feel uncomfortable at any point just tell me and I'll stop. My wish is that you'll let me try."

His hands glided softly over her arms and he backed away slightly, giving her time to decide. He had asked so nicely and he looked at her so expectantly, she told herself she couldn't say no for his sake. That was a lie. Her body was aching for him and needed some kind of release, preferably brought on by his conscientious abilities. If he was to be trusted, his oral attentions would be a most suitable substitute, and if the choice was that or nothing, she was ready to grant him his wish.

"Alright," she agreed, not quite reluctant, but still a bit wary.

He said nothing but smiled, and before he moved on to other locales, she could read his face quite clearly: 'I knew you would see it my way'. But somehow, instead of it taunting her, instead of it causing her to pull back and make it more difficult for him, his confident glance turned her on all the more.

Darcy actually concentrated. While their previous intimate moments had been spontaneous, this experience with Lizzy required delicacy and forethought. He wanted to astound her, and though he believed she would enjoy it once she opened herself to the idea, he wanted to obliterate the negative memories from her mind. This would be her first time.

He began with strokes and caresses that in no way hinted he would do anything else but touch her body with his hands while lightly pressing his lips to hers. He never tired of feeling Lizzy's skin under his palm and he doubted he ever would. His mouth slowly joined in the seduction, doing everything his imagination would allow, sweeping over her body at a steadied pace, building momentum ... but he did not move toward the growing heat between her thighs.

Lizzy was thoroughly enjoying every touch, but being aware of what was to come, she couldn't fully get it out of her mind. Yet there was a certain thrill about it that she couldn't deny. To be truthful, she had expected him to head directly to where he wanted - that's what men did, wasn't it? As his hands and lips drifted from one body part to another, she was rather surprised when he seemed to be pointedly avoiding his ultimate goal. She came to the conclusion that Darcy was a master of this sort of thing and was cautiously leading up it. When he finished licking her toes, nibbling her fingers and nipping her neck, he'd zero in on the one place he'd been meaning to deal with since he started his journey.

But he didn't. He continued to explore every pore of her skin to the point where she finally forgot where his progress would lead and then, finally, one hand slowly slipped between her legs to confirm her state of arousal.

He had sensed her alertness and hesitancy all through his ministrations. She was definitely excited but mentally, she still wasn't ready for him to lower his mouth onto her. He massaged her gently at first, ensuring her exposed flesh wasn't affected by their previous heated encounters.

After his patient, generous foreplay, Lizzy was confused as he seemed to be planning to bring her pleasure manually rather than orally. A sense of relief, but somehow disappointment rushed through her as she felt his wished-for touch. Regardless of what was supposed to happen, she couldn't help but respond with hunger to his soft caresses, kissing him forcefully and grinding her hips against him. His fingers were simultaneously relaxing and provoking her.

Gingerly, Darcy's lips kissed their way from her mouth, to her neck, down her breast and finally to her tummy. Lizzy only perceived their position when they reached her inner thigh, and her entire body's awareness seemed to return, a flush of energy soaring through her.

Though her mind knew when his lips finally reached her sex, her body wasn't so sure. He was simply kissing her tenderly, as if it were any other part of her body, but the thought of him being there escalated her arousal. His thumb was still the principle player and was doing its job admirably as far as Lizzy was concerned. Her gasps and groans had steadily increased as her excitement grew. His mouth, even though sweetly joining his thumb, had little to do with her enjoyment.

And then things changed. Darcy was nothing if not subtle. Lizzy hardly noticed when the stroke of his thumb had been overtaken by the stroke of his tongue. She thought her slow, blossoming exhilaration had to do with her natural progression to an orgasm, but finally she realized his circling thumb seemed a little ... different. It had somehow morphed into a more controlled, precise touch, and oh my, did it feel blissful.

Darcy felt the moment Lizzy realized the change and reacted accordingly. He circled about her languidly, flicking his tongue to surprise her and finally dipping into her. He thrilled in her obvious enjoyment and her eagerness for him to continue. He had known she would respond once he began, but he had again underestimated the depth of her interest. He could tell she had no notion of where she was or what they were doing. She was surrounded by her own passion for pleasure, an awakening of her body to unknown delights.

The knowledge that Darcy was responsible for these new, wonderful sensations, coupled with the actual feel of him tasting her, revealed itself through Lizzy's physical actions. Suddenly, she felt everything more acutely, and she desperately urged him deeper. She wanted him to do anything he wanted; it all felt so divine.

Darcy's eager mouth continued its glorious exploration, but was again joined by his fingers. He could hear her moan; he glanced up to see her face, but most importantly, he could feel her overwhelming demand for him to continue. It wasn't hard to tell Lizzy liked what was happening; she compellingly voiced her delight, her thighs began to press inward and her bottom had slowly moved toward the edge of the bench as she moved insistently closer. She had given him carte blanche and he dove deeply, savouring her very essence, something he had been anticipating for longer than Lizzy could imagine.

Whatever anxiety Lizzy had had about oral sex was shoved to the darkest recesses of her mind, somewhere next to her silly five year old fear of monsters under her bed. How very foolish she had been. With the feel of his velvety tongue smoothly manipulating her, she lost herself. She had no idea her thighs were pressing so intently against Darcy, she'd no idea her cries were so pronounced that it was a good thing Jane and Charles were gone and she certainly had no idea she had been holding onto the bench so forcefully that her nails were digging solid dents to the underside of the wood. It was a saving grace she had slowly drawn herself to the front edge of the bench, for when she finally felt the powerful shattering of her body, she flung her head back forcefully. If she hadn't moved forward, the impact against the wall would have likely knocked her out.

Her pulse thumped at warp speed, vaulting her sensations higher, while a numbness streaked through her nervous system and found its way to the very tips of her toes. They not only tingled as she reached her wild rush of adrenalin-infused ecstasy, they literally vibrated. Nothing had prepared her for the sheer power buzzing through her body.

When her shuddering finally subsided, Darcy pulled away resignedly. He didn' t stop touching her though. He trailed kisses down her thigh, after which he propped his head on her knee, looking up at her with a mix of satisfaction and expectation. She didn't disappoint.

"Is it too soon to beg for more?" she asked, her face quite flushed from her own increased temperature and the stifling heat of the sauna.

Darcy chuckled and began to move back toward his previous location.

"Just kidding!" She grabbed his face and brought his lips to hers, desperately needing to kiss him for the gloriousness he'd given to her. However, she quickly recovered from her own self-satisfied fog, and her hands drifted down his body to find his arousal quite inspired by her reaction.

Through heated kisses, Lizzy managed to say, "May I return the favour?" She then started to slip away from his mouth, planning to move to the lower bench when he stopped her.

"If you put your lips any lower I may just spontaneously combust." It wasn't far off from the truth. It was apparent Darcy was getting overheated. "I'm not kidding. You go where I think you're going and I'm going to pass out from heat exhaustion." Darcy's voice was ragged but deadly serious.

"So you don't want me to?" Lizzy asked, completely astounded.

"Of course I do," he replied quickly. "Do you think I'm insane?"

Darcy repeated his earlier manoeuvre of lifting her to the shower - again punching in the temperature of his choice, much cooler than the sauna. As the water beat down on his body, Darcy let out a sigh. "Ah, much better."

"You really like this shower, don't you?" Lizzy asked dryly, thoroughly entertained by his practical nature.

"Let's just say I've never found it so useful until now."

Lizzy wasted no time, abruptly and forcefully pushing at Darcy's chest. Surprised by her aggressive move, Darcy stepped back, bumping into the bench behind his legs, losing his balance and finally tripping back onto it. Lizzy smirked through this entire awkward episode.

"Now." She kneeled in front of him. "Where were we?"

Before Darcy had time to comment, Lizzy's lips were wrapped around him. He let out something between a shocked gasp and groan but steeled himself before he reached the point of no return. Once he controlled his physical urges, he was able to enjoy the feel of Lizzy taking him in.

Luckily for his stamina, Lizzy was no expert. She knew what felt good, but she wasn't knowledgeable of how to drive a man off the deep end quickly. Her tongue was eager but uneducated; she knew it herself, so she used her hands to heighten his pleasure. Though Darcy had been pleased enough times in this particular manner to know he'd be able to take his time and enjoy the sensations, it felt incredible to be experiencing this with Lizzy.

If Darcy had simply leaned back with his eyes closed, his confident estimation of the duration of their sexual encounter would have been spot on. He would have lasted and enjoyed a slow, building crescendo. However, he was afflicted with the same condition as Lizzy - love, combined with a rabid amount of lust. This amalgam of emotions has a way of altering one's abilities, so that as calm as he was with his eyes fixed on the showerhead, Darcy's decision to glance down for a glimpse of Lizzy enjoying herself was a grave mistake. At the very moment he took it all in, Lizzy's eyes ventured towards his with a positively wicked glimmer to them.

In one swift moment, his concentration and composure disintegrated and the rush of ultimate pleasure came all too soon. It was not so early that he had anything to be embarrassed about, but he was well aware that it wasn't Lizzy 's mastery of the art that precipitated his untimeliness. It was her - her presence, her distinct playful personality and ultimately, his love for her.

He certainly wasn't disappointed and he knew they'd share an encounter like this again. He also admitted silently that her relative innocence was refreshing and endearing, something that helped in bringing about his swift crash from the natural high of having a woman's lips encircling his arousal.

Lizzy didn't seem to notice, most likely because she'd no clue how long a strong man could last. She just seemed pleased to be able to bring him delight as he had to her. Not surprisingly, Darcy didn't volunteer the information. A man has his pride afterall.

And so the weekend continued in much the same manner. By Saturday evening, Lizzy had recovered enough to tell Darcy to, "Have your way with me," which Darcy did, most agreeably. Their sexual compatibility increased with time devoted to each other's pleasure; they were both quick studies in each other 's sexual limits and comfort levels. They took every opportunity to enjoy themselves.

On Monday evening Lizzy insisted she return home, much to Darcy's consternation. She argued that she shouldn't become dependent on staying at his place; as lovely as it was, she still had her own bed and her own home.

He volunteered to join her, but she only protested more. Both had individual lives to lead,and most importantly, both had jobs to go to in the morning. She suspected if she stayed, she'd become addicted to the sumptuous lifestyle of remaining in bed with Darcy until noon, making love all hours and eating decadent aphrodisiacs. The dream weekend had to end and the best way to bring herself back to the real world was to go back to her routine.

As much as Darcy wanted to tell her that her rationalizations were ridiculous, that they were adults and they could very well manage to sleep together without mauling the other, that they could wake and dress for work in a respectful manner; he wisely decided to keep his mouth shut. He was learning to pick his battles and if his argument was to tell her she was ludicrous, he was certain that wouldn't win her over.

He did weakly suggest that she could return home to go through her usual nightly routine, then pack her work clothes and return. She flatly refused.

So with a petulant heart and a sulky face, Darcy led Lizzy to the door. She insisted that he also return to his regular evening ritual while Quinn drove her home. Darcy still wanted to tell her how silly she was being, but bit his tongue. He thought if he could turn their goodnight kiss into a heated make-out session, her determination might falter.

He proceeded cautiously as if it were their first date all over again, trying to delude her into believing he was resigned to the fate of being alone for the night. The slight touch of their lips only lasted a brief moment before his arm stealthily wrapped itself around her, pulling her slowly but firmly against his hard body. Once he knew she could feel his hunger, his tongue snuck from his mouth to hers, a delicate lick and she responded in kind. He thought she was a goner.

Lizzy had at first been surprised by his acquiescence, even if there was some reticence to it. The Darcy she knew was mightily determined to get his way at almost any cost; he'd certainly proved it in the sauna to her utter delight. So when he kissed her so sweetly, she was certainly surprised. As much as she loved him, she still liked the challenge of him and hoped they never lost their competitive nature. Winning didn't mean much if the competitor capitulated without so much as a parting shot.

When his kiss deepened, and her entire body was pressed against his muscular form, she knew he was fighting back and the race was on. She believed she was strong enough to enjoy the moment and pull away, but somehow she was never prepared for the spine-tingling shivers Darcy provoked whenever he purposefully tried to make her melt. Indeed, she had almost given up the fight when Darcy made a miscalculation - he pulled away to look at her with dark, loving eyes.

In the mood she was in, a look like that would not do the trick. If he had lifted her up the stairs, heck, if he had undressed her at that very spot in the foyer, she would have stayed; but a tender gaze gave her strength rather than making her falter. It told her he loved her no matter what.

As bad as it was, she admitted silently that a Neanderthal Darcy was more potent at this particular moment than a gentlemanly one. Thank goodness he had no clue that was the case.

Pulling away, she saw his surprised eyes and whispered, "Thank you for everything. Goodnight Fitzwilliam." She turned away quickly, not giving him the opportunity to change her mind. Hopping into his car, only then did she let herself look back to him, blowing him a kiss and waving. He lifted his hand mechanically, still in shock from her hasty departure, looking so solitary and disappointed that she almost told Quinn to hit the breaks. Her stubbornness won out, and fifteen minutes later she was leaning against the door of her townhouse, staring at her hallway closet, feeling absolutely wretched.

Still, she was resolute in her decision. She went upstairs and unpacked her things, but before she knew her own mind, she was smelling them for signs of him. Stop it!, she scolded herself. It's just one night apart. I can't be thinking my whole life should be like this weekend.

Truly believing she was doing the right thing, she changed into her much less sexy cotton pjs and took out her clothes for work, hanging them on the back of her door in front of her garment bag, telling herself that it's always good to start being organized about what to wear in the morning.

She went down to the kitchen and grabbed a glass of water and checked her e-mails from work. Nothing surprising but for an e-mail from Georgiana Darcy who admitted she finagled her address from her brother promising she wouldn' t hound Lizzy, but here she was sending an e-mail anyway. It was very polite and expressed her happiness of having met her. She was looking forward to seeing her again soon which brought up this point.

I am going to be in town again in a couple of weeks for 'dahling' Caroline's shop opening. Yes, that's the sound of sarcasm dripping, in case you were wondering. William said he won't be going and mentioned you probably wouldn't either, but you don't seem to be the type to let my brother dictate your life, so if you do go, I'd love to go together. Let me know.

Lizzy was pleasantly surprised by Georgie's invitation but wondered why Darcy wasn't going and had assumed she wasn't, as they really hadn't discussed it. She felt it would have meant a lot to Charles and that Darcy would do it for him. She figured he must be busy. After replying to Georgie, she noticed her phone blinking.

The first message was from Charlotte. While trying to stifle uncharacteristic giggles, no doubt brought on by Richard, she asked Lizzy to thank Darcy for providing such delicious strawberries and champagne and then promptly apologized on Richard's behalf.

The second message wasn't quite so amusing. "Lizzy! Good gracious, you sly thing! Jane just let it slip. Spending the weekend with William Darcy at his home! You've been keeping your love life so secret from your own mother who you know would have been pleased - but I suppose you didn't want me to get my hopes up. Such a charming man! So handsome! So tall! So successful! But my dearest love, tell me his favourite dish so we can have him for dinner on the weekend. Call me when you return from your romantic rendezvous." The last line was said with a giggle befitting the silliest teenager.

Lizzy puffed up her cheeks and breathed out. Well, at least I wasn't there to see her flail around when she found out. She immediately deleted the message - a paranoid thought of Darcy somehow finding it entered her mind.

After brushing her teeth and placing the toothbrush back in her cosmetic bag rather than in the brush stand, Lizzy finally, reluctantly slipped into her very mundane, very empty double bed. She turned out the light and brought the simple cotton covers to her chin.

~ * ~

A half hour later, significantly softer sheets were brushing Lizzy's skin.

"Don't even think about it."

"Think about what?"

"Saying I told you so."

"What, and risk you leaving again?" Darcy answered honestly, his face beaming with happiness at having Lizzy back in his bed.

"This won't be a regular occurrence." Lizzy was angry with her lack of willpower. Not three minutes after she turned out the light, she was back up, slipping her already prepared clothes into her garment bag, grabbing her cosmetics bag from the bathroom and throwing a sweatshirt over her pajama top. She felt pathetic and elated at the same time. She just couldn't let the weekend end.

"I'm sure it won't." Darcy gave her a serious visage, nodding in agreement. He didn't believe it for a second.

"Don't patronize me," Lizzy retorted as she cuddled into his chest while still trying to grasp some dignity. "It's just... this is a new thing for me and we had such a magical weekend." She paused as he gave her a 'get real' look. "Okay... I missed your bed."

"Is that all?"

Lizzy's eyes were steady on him through lowered eyelids. She begrudgingly admitted, "I missed you too."

"Lizzy, you say all the right things." Darcy didn't know if it were possible, but her stubborn nature seemed to make him love her all the more.

Chapter XVIII

The honeymoon stage of a relationship is a magical, almost surreal time. Couples live in their own little, self-absorbed corner of the universe, mooning over every little facet of their lover and how their relationship is so much deeper yet more real than anyone else's.

If couples exhibit these characteristics too often in public, it makes onlookers a tad nauseous. Luckily, Lizzy and Darcy were private people when it came to their personal lives and their focussed adoration was not for an audience. They were just sickening behind closed doors.

Contrary to Lizzy's earlier beliefs, they were able to share a bed and manage to get to work on time. However, she could easily have been accused of being a little less attentive than usual to her duties. Fortunately, being in an office with a high percentage of women, she was cut some slack. It didn't hurt that Darcy continued his earlier practice of sending her flowers and goodies on a regular basis. In fact, when he surprised her one day by showing up for lunch, the whole office was guilty of inattentiveness - many co-workers lived vicariously through Lizzy's currently dreamy love life.

Admittedly, Darcy also had his share of distraction, but he was lucky that most of the month of November was void of meetings and pressing decision-making. When Lizzy sent him e-cards or had a naughty love note couriered, he became slightly unfocussed, but he had a large office door to hide behind, and no one was about to tell the boss they noticed his absent-mindedness.

Although Lizzy had given up on individual sleeping arrangements during their first week together, they were forced to endure a night apart. Darcy had meetings in New York on Friday morning and decided it was easier to fly in the night before. They both felt empty, they talked on the phone until far past a reasonable hour, and neither made it to work on time. Thus, they perpetuated the stereotype ... they were sickening, really, with no sign of a cure in sight.

Their reunion from their less-than-24 hour separation was as steamy as a couple who had been pulled apart for months. Having spent the night wearing down the thread count of Darcy's sheets, they enjoyed a leisurely Saturday eating, reading, chatting and simply luxuriating in each other's company. However, this peaceful little vignette didn't stop Lizzy's stomach from churning in anticipation of what was to come. She was dreading Sunday dinner with her mother in all her glory, and now that it was only a day away, her mind was spinning with reasons to cancel.

Perhaps because she was a brave woman and kept those excuses to herself, fortune decided to shine on her. As they arrived the next day, she was confident she could make it through the experience without sinking through the floorboards in embarrassment and frustration, and without losing the love of her life as he ran screaming out the door in fear.

Jane and Charles had conveniently decided to announce their engagement at the dinner. They had let Lizzy in on this surprise the evening before, so she was able to make it through the first five minutes of her mother fussing over Darcy tolerably well. Then Fanny saw Jane's ring - Lizzy and Darcy were free.

Fanny flitted and fluttered, she bubbled and tittered, but it was all for Jane and Charles. Darcy was reduced to Lizzy's silent accessory. Fanny ended up being civilly polite to her second daughter's new boyfriend, as she was much too distracted by her eldest daughter's sparkling rock to give anyone else more than a cursory regard.

Lizzy eventually grew weary of her mother's incessant fawning over Charles's wealth and good fortune, even if Fanny's attention wasn't bestowed upon Darcy. Having noticed earlier that Lydia was nowhere to be seen, she decided to ask about her.

Fanny stared at her daughter momentarily, partially stunned from being taken off-topic, but she was happy to discuss the daughter whom she usually considered her favourite. She shook her head and smiled before speaking, as if enjoying her own private joke. "That Lydia! She's been so secretive lately. I suspect she's dating a college boy and thinks we'll be upset. I'll let her feel devious until she can't hold it in any longer. You know her. She can't keep news of a boyfriend to herself."

"Why do you think he's in college?"

"Because she's suddenly interested in going to Algonquin College next year."

Lizzy nearly choked on her whipped potatoes. "Does she think she can get in with her marks?"

Fanny's eyes shifted quickly from Lizzy to Darcy, her mouth in a displeased pucker. She didn't want him thinking any of her daughters were lazy or unintelligent. "Lydia's marks are fine. She's just having fun like any other girl her age. Now that she has direction, I'm sure it will all work out."

The - until-now - silent Thomas Bennet piped up with Fanny's last remark. "Yes, Lizzy, and here I thought I could put Lydia's education fund into our retirement nest egg. I won't be able to leave the job as early as I planned. Seems she has a new fondness for broadcasting."

Lizzy rolled her eyes, assuming Lydia was solely interested in what she thought was a glamourous career with a new boyfriend to boot. She figured if the romance died out, so would her scholastic interest.

Darcy's subconscious was momentarily tweaked, but nothing more.

He could have thought of the possible parallels between Georgie and Lydia, but they were such vastly different girls that it didn't occur to him. He was also busy concentrating on keeping his eyes from rolling, and his mind from numbing, at Mrs. Bennet's antics.

The meal carried on with Fanny on the receiving end of the guests' compliments. She had served a superior spread, putting to use her gourmet cooking skills. She'd taken a course years ago to get away from her girls when they were all under the age of twelve. She glowed with the appreciative comments knowing these men were well accustomed to fine foods. She'd have something to tell Mrs. Lucas, Mrs. Phillips and Mrs. Long at their next Pilates class.

Once coffee and dessert were finished, Darcy made an effort to get to know Lizzy's father who had been as quiet as Darcy but for a few pointed remarks to his wife. He asked Thomas if he could see his library, and before long Lizzy peaked through the hallway to see Darcy holding one of her father's most prized volumes as they talked animatedly... well, animatedly for Darcy and her dad. She smiled, thrilled with their new acquaintance with each other, particularly because they were out of the room for Fanny's latest oration of all things good about her daughters' men.

"I just can't believe Charles Bingley and William Darcy are in my home with my girls. Can a woman be any luckier? And Charles, how many square feet did you say Netherworld is?"

"MOM!!!" Both girls cried in unison, but Charles, ever the happy-go-lucky guest, laughed at Mrs. Bennet's forwardness and her original name for his home.

"That's Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet, and it was about 8,000 square feet when I purchased it, but I've since added a few square feet here and there."

He winked at Jane to reassure her he thought this was all a good joke, but soon Fanny was again lost in a fit of effusions, and finally Charles realized he'd had enough. As soon as politely possible, he excused himself, with a sudden renewed interest in libraries, though the last time he stepped into one was the week of his senior year university finals.

Lizzy turned to Jane as Fanny continued to rattle on about the men, and paid her own compliment to Jane's fiancé. "Charles is a smart man, isn't he?"

Jane's reply was a slight nod and secret smile. "Yes, yes he is."

Not surprisingly, Fanny missed the irony.

~ * ~

Georgie stared at her closet, dazed with the possibilities. She had a lot of clothes, but was horrendous at deciding what to wear and what looked best on her. She knew many women would envy her slim, athletic frame. If she were a forceful woman, her personality combined with her looks and famous name would have given her a commanding presence. Instead, her shy disposition only made her feel awkward. Though she had a firm, fit form, she somehow managed to look small, even weak. She'd have died for curves. Curves like Lizzy's. She looked spectacular in a slightly form-fitting black cocktail dress.

Little did Georgie know Lizzy was feeling self-conscious in her outfit. She'd worn it the night she went out with Darcy and Eli Levine as well as a few times before that and it hadn't bothered her then, but she was now truly conscious of being Fitzwilliam Darcy's companion. That role carried certain expectations, at least in her mind. Darcy had complimented her appropriately when she'd arrived, but she had a silly desire to want to look particularly special for him, even though he wasn't accompanying her that night. She looked at Georgie's closet of dresses and instead of feeling proud of her steal of a deal Jones New York outfit from Winners, she felt a bit shabby.

"Lizzy, help me please!" Georgie cried in frustration, turning to her new friend who was sitting on her bed, looking somewhat pensive.

Lizzy immediately perked up. She had no desire for Georgie to notice her serious mood and ask what was wrong. "Why do you need my help? You have dozens of dresses that would look lovely on you."

"But I don't know which one! And I've no idea how to accessorize. I don't really go to this type of thing much. I'm no fashionista, even though I have fun dressing up sometimes. I wish I knew how to be put-together like you. You look perfect."

Lizzy smiled at the irony of the compliment and resolved to be more mature. She didn't need a new dress every day. Even if she had the kind of money Georgie had to spend on her wardrobe, she'd never turn into a Caroline Bingley. She happily looked through Georgie's selection and picked a pale grey silk crepe dress with an asymmetrical hemline. The neckline and short sleeves had a satiny silver edging, and it suited Georgie's colouring perfectly. She added some silver jewellery, including a stunning hairclip that shimmered against her blonde up-do, and found some silver grey shoes. Georgie was set. The 19-year-old never felt so prepared for an event in her life.

Georgie walked proudly down the stairs to her brother. She looked every inch the lady, and it was important for her brother and surrogate father to realize she was becoming a grown-up, a woman. She knew her emotional maturity was what counted, but sometimes the outside package reflected what was inside.

Darcy had been waiting for the two for some time now, since Lizzy had rushed up the stairs earlier to see how Georgie was fairing in getting ready. Based on the time Lizzy had been upstairs, she hadn't been doing so well, but the end result was stunning. He'd hardly recognized his sister as she descended the stairs. No, that wasn't true, he recognized his mother as she had appeared to him as a boy. For a moment he watched her, speechless, but collected himself and gave them an encouraging smile.

"You ladies both look amazing." He glanced warmly toward Lizzy.

Lizzy quickly corrected him. "No, you've already given me my compliments, you must dole them out to Georgie now."

He winked at her and turned to Georgie with outstretched arms. "Can you give your dull looking brother a hug?"

"William, I can't. I'll ruin my dress," Georgie explained, shocked at her brother's open display of affection in front of Lizzy while still sensible to the fact that delicate crepe wrinkled far too easily to subject it to a bear hug.

"Of course, how silly of me." He chuckled, not in the least offended. Georgie had been growing in confidence for some time now, but somehow in her short acquaintance with Lizzy, she seemed more mature and sure of herself. He wasn't the least bit surprised.

Georgie wisely said goodbye and headed to the car before Lizzy, giving the two love birds time alone. She couldn't get over how Lizzy had affected her brother. He was much livelier, teasing even, and he wasn't shy about touching his new girlfriend in front of her. This was a whole new brother, and though the other one was dear to her, she liked this dimension to him more and more.

Inside the house, Darcy couldn't care less if Lizzy's dress wrinkled. He gave her a kiss so smouldering it was as if they still held pent up sexual tension. Lizzy pulled away, shaking her head. "It's only two nights, Fitzwilliam, and I'll be here in the day."

Darcy sighed and freed her from his grasp. "I know. I'm just selfish."

"You're the one who asked me not to stay here while Georgie's in town."

"Are you upset?"

Lizzy rolled her eyes; the man was getting downright over-cautious with her. "I already told you, I understand. If you hadn't said anything, I would have suggested it myself. She's still your priority, and I don't want to interrupt family time."

He smiled, thanked her, gave a less intense kiss goodbye and wished her a pleasant evening, still surprised she was willing to attend this opening. What he wanted to do was tell her she was now as much a priority to him as Georgie, because if he had what he wanted, she'd be well on her way to being part of his family.

With that thought in mind, he headed upstairs to his anteroom. He moved a few encyclopedia volumes on his bookshelf clearing some room to open his safe, and took out his mother's engagement ring. He stared at it hard, pondering what Lizzy's reaction would be if he offered it to her.

He knew a bit of her opinion due to their conversation the night Jane and Charles became engaged. Jane had phoned to tell them as she couldn't keep it from Lizzy until dinner at the Bennet's the next day.

"Are you envious?" he had asked after they'd finished talking to the happy couple.

"Of what?" Lizzy was confused by his question so she had quipped, "As nice as he is, I don't want to marry Charles."

Darcy had nodded in agreement, getting her joke but moving on to his concern. He took her in his arms. "That we met the same night and they are already on their way to being married."

Lizzy had denied any envy of course, and instead of getting too serious about the issue of marriage too soon, the two had made a joke of it. Later that night, Lizzy had returned to the question as if she'd given it a lot of thought. "I think Jane and Charles are like two pieces of a puzzle that you know fit together. Except for Caroline's interference, their relationship has been simple and clear. I think we're more like a full puzzle. We have all these different pieces to work out, so it takes more time, but I think, when we've completed it, it'll be amazing to see the results."

As lovely as that analogy was, Darcy also understood that Lizzy was in no rush to make their commitment to each other official. However, he knew from previous experiences, Lizzy sometimes thought she needed things slow until he convinced her otherwise.

We'll see, he thought as he placed the ring back in its temporary home.

~ * ~

Two well-coiffed, prettily dressed, curious young women sat in the back of the Darcy limo eager for the evening to unfold for several reasons. They wondered how Caroline would react to seeing no 'William Darcy' (even though he'd sent his regrets) but also to seeing Georgie and Lizzy together. Above all, they wondered what her clothing line would actually look like. Caroline's tastes just didn't seem practical for the relatively conservative residents of Ottawa.

Georgie had been dying to ask Lizzy about her discussion with Darcy regarding Caroline's opening. Neither of them said a word about it in front of her, and Darcy didn't seem upset that she and Lizzy were going. Though Georgie was trying to escape the clutches of the uncertain young girl who had moved away from home just over a year ago, she lacked the nerve to ask Lizzy about the talk either in an e-mail, or earlier that evening in her room when Lizzy helped her find a dress. However, curiosity sometimes has a way of overcoming shyness, and she couldn't resist approaching the topic while they were alone in the car.

"Would you mind letting me in on William's reaction to you going with me? He seemed fine tonight."

"You mean I didn't tell you?" Lizzy was completely surprised by her forgetfulness. She loved to share Darcy stories with Georgie as long as they were 'PG'. "He basically said he thought Caroline didn't deserve our presence. When I asked him about doing it for Charles, he insisted this wouldn't help Charles in the least and he'd no desire to listen to Caroline insult me behind my back again."

"What did you say?" Georgie was fascinated, although not surprised by her brother's comments.

"I said she also insults me to my face, too, but I don't really care. I reiterated that it's my decision whether I go to a function or not and that he'll do well to remember never to speak for me. He noted that and agreed I had a point."

"I can't believe you said that. I wish I had the nerve. I can't believe William let you say that!" Georgie looked horrified. She couldn't equate the man Lizzy was describing with the man she knew.

"Let me say it? I say what I want to your brother. I think it's one of the reasons he likes me."

Georgie just nodded. She'd no desire to explain that it was one thing to say that to a William in love with you, quite another when he's your brother.

Lizzy continued her story. "Ultimately, I told him I'm just plain curious and that's why I want to go. Of course, he was perplexed and asked, 'Curious about what?'"

"And you answered...?" Georgie rolled her eyes and giggled, knowing exactly what Lizzy would say.

"The clothes, Fitzwilliam, the clothes!"

"Did he get it?" Georgie could hardly get out the question she was laughing so hard at the thought of Lizzy shouting at her brother.

"No." Lizzy eyes lifted heavenward. "I had to explain that I wanted to see if her line of clothing looks anything like the stuff she actually wears."

"And if there's anything worth buying," Georgie added.

"Me? Buy couture? No way - I'd be six feet deep in debt, I'm sure of it." Lizzy laughed but noticed Georgie shift uncomfortably. She was obviously worried she'd slighted Lizzy in some way, so Lizzy quickly added with a devilish smile, "Besides, I don't think I want Caroline to profit off me, and I'm not sure she really wants me wearing her clothes either."

As the pair stepped out of their limo, there were a few cameras and curious onlookers; however, Ottawa is a relatively small city, and the pertinent and interested journalists were welcome inside the event. After all, Caroline was opening a business and she made sure the people who could provide publicity were warm and cozy in her studio, and more importantly, getting photos with her and Ottawa's elite.

Inside, Caroline's preparations for the opening had been meticulous, from the caviar canapés to her own look for the evening. Her outfit was chosen to define herself as an artiste. She was in black, from head to foot, which would have been tasteful had the full-length dress not been made of a body moulding synthetic fabric so form-fitting anyone could easily recognize she wasn't wearing any underwear.

She saw Georgie first and her hopes soared. Caroline knew of Georgie's shy nature as well as Darcy's protective personality; the girl would never come alone. With that thought in mind, Caroline realized Georgie wasn't alone. The Tart was just behind her looking utterly mundane in Caroline's judgment, but if they were both here... She strained her neck to watch the door but could not see her beloved Darcy. She was thoroughly disappointed. The night of her greatest triumph and he wasn't there to witness it. How could she prove to him what a successful, perfect woman she was for him if he didn't see her in her element? What would the gossips say about his absence?

She pondered the importance of him being there and practicality won out. She admitted she was lucky that at least Georgie showed up. After all, she wore the dresses in the family; she was her target market.

It took little time for Caroline to approach Georgie with outstretched arms and an overstretched smile. She wanted as much press as possible for this welcoming and was well aware Georgie's face wasn't well known by the photographers because of her reticent nature. She was very quick to inform anyone within shouting distance who the young blonde was by calling to her loudly, "Georgiana Darcy! Darling! How wonderful for you to make it all the way from London!" She purposely omitted the London to which she referred was in Ontario and not England.

Tentatively, Georgie approached Caroline and allowed her to air kiss each cheek. Before she could say a word, Caroline steered her toward the cameras. "You look smashing, Georgie, but after tonight, we'll dress you in my designs." She laughed at her own joke though she was silently disappointed she hadn't thought of dressing Georgie for the opening. Photographers snapped the two statuesque women, one boisterous, the other subdued.

Once Caroline felt Georgie had had enough, she took her aside to chat. Georgie noticed Lizzy had walked over to a stunning and slightly familiar looking blonde woman who stood next to Charles. Although quite different in colouring and height, it was obviously Lizzy's sister. Even with their superficial differences, Georgie noticed their features were quite similar.

"You do look quite striking this evening, Georgie dear." Caroline rarely used Georgie's name without adding some kind of endearment. It drove Georgie insane. "I must say, you've really improved your classic style while you've been at school."

"Actually, Lizzy's responsible for putting me all together tonight." Georgie looked down at her ensemble, for once completely satisfied with how she looked.

"Oh." Caroline was momentarily speechless for accidentally giving The Tart a compliment. She decided to pry some information from innocent little Georgie. "So, you and Lizzy are getting along well? I'm surprised; I thought she might have a hard time fitting in with you and Darcy."

"Why would you think that?"

"She's not used to your situation in life, my dear, and perhaps she wouldn't be comfortable around such a prestigious family name."

"Do you know what Lizzy does for a living?" Georgie asked with a questioning glance. "She just spent September and October in the presence of royalty. I think she's quite comfortable with anyone."

"Yes, of course." Caroline voice was abrupt. Though Georgie had never liked Caroline, she'd never the nerve to deal with her the way she wanted. She had been too apprehensive around her, and in the past had been rather intimidated by her overbearing behaviour. Having matured and dealt with her insecurities in the past year and a half, she was now capable of standing up to the woman. She nonetheless reverted to her shy demeanour, only because it could help her put Caroline in her place without her knowing Georgie was doing it on purpose.

"Are you..." Georgie trailed off nervously for a moment, and then in a slightly quieter voice asked, "You're not still interested in my brother, are you?"

Caroline looked at the young girl she'd been coddling for years in the hopes of impressing her brother. Caroline thought her a powerful, yet naïve ally who had always been in awe of her. She was certain her dedicated attentiveness to this timid little thing would come in handy. Though Lizzy seemed to hold some attraction for Georgie, Caroline felt her years of cultivating a rapport with the girl would keep Georgie in her corner if she handled things delicately.

"To be perfectly honest, yes, I am," Caroline admitted but quickly explained. "You see, when your brother and I parted ways, things hadn't been going well because we were both at particularly busy times in our lives. I was just getting the idea for this studio off the ground; he was quite busy at work and he was still dealing with you being away at university for the first time. We drifted apart rather than making a clean break."

Georgie gave her a wide-eyed look and nodded. Caroline continued. "And then before I knew it, he had hooked up with Elizabeth, out of the blue, and so soon after what I thought was a temporary split."

"I didn't think it was that soon," Georgie answered, slightly confused. "They only met in August."

"No, dear." Caroline patted Georgie's hand and leaned in closer to talk quietly as if gently correcting a child's error. "They met much before that. They began dating in early July."

Georgie bit her lip trying so hard not to laugh. To Caroline, she looked confused and slightly scared. Finally, Georgie managed to control herself and furrowed her brow. This was too easy. "I'm positive it was August. Lizzy told me the story the night I met her. She had crashed Charles's long weekend party, and she and William weren't getting along very well until she saved him from a pestering-"

Georgie stopped with a look of horror on her face. She bowed her head worried that she looked like a bad soap opera actor, and then said in a quick, quiet voice, "Actually, Caroline, you might be right about when they met. I think I got it wrong."

Caroline stared at Georgie debating whether she should pursue what else Lizzy had told the girl, but decided against it. She knew all she needed to know and didn't want to suffer the discomfort of having to be told by an innocent teenager that William Darcy preferred to kiss someone who was utterly beneath him, a complete stranger who entered a party uninvited, than to reunite with her. It made her ill. "Excuse me, dear, I must go find one of my guests."

Georgie watched Caroline walk directly towards a private office rather than to another guest, but felt no remorse. She knew enough of Caroline's nasty attitude over the years to know she didn't deserve pity. Besides, Georgie was just telling the truth.

She walked over to Lizzy, Jane and Charles and felt proud of herself. William, of course, would never approve of such vengeful behaviour, but she wasn't her brother. She was only 19 years old and she'd never done something like that in her life. It felt quite liberating.

Once she had a moment alone with Lizzy, Georgie couldn't help but admit she revealed Lizzy and Darcy's first moments together, 'accidentally on purpose', to Caroline. Though Lizzy tried to chastise Georgie for being dishonest in her delivery, she couldn't help but add, "I can't say I'm disappointed though. I'm sure your brother wouldn't like it, but I'm not as charitable. She's been under the delusion that she has some kind of hold on him, and nothing could be further from the truth. She needs to let go. Maybe with him not being here and your information, she'll finally admit the obvious. I mean, she has to at some point, right?" Lizzy just rolled her eyes when Georgie didn't answer the question. They both hoped, rather than knew, that Caroline would give up.

Charles left the women to talk to an acquaintance, which gave them the chance to explore Caroline's store and her line of clothing. To the unqualified shock of two of them, most of Caroline's clothing was lovely and quite tasteful, particularly the ready-to-wear pieces. Admittedly, the haute couture was not to their liking, but very few people truly 'get' couture.

"I can't believe I actually like her clothes." Lizzy gently grasped the arm of an elegant black cashmere suit. She would have loved to buy something like it, but the price tag hanging off the base of the sleeve advised her otherwise. She wouldn't even tempt herself by trying anything on since it would only be more painful if something truly appealed to her. "Jane, did you know Caroline was actually talented?"

"As a matter of fact, I've known for a couple of weeks." Jane revealed with a nod. "The dress I have on is one of her originals, tailored for me to wear tonight. I was quite flattered when she asked me to model it. I've shown it off tonight, and a few people are interested. It's been kind of fun, really."

In one way, Lizzy was surprised at Caroline's request but then she looked at her sister and couldn't help but remark, "Caroline is a smart businesswoman. She's got a perfect model to show off her clothes who's going to be part of the family, so she doesn't have to pay you. You're probably helping her more than you know!"

"Not quite," Jane responded with an air of amusement. "Charles liked the dress so much he wants me to keep it, but he told Caroline it can come off her debt to him. She won't get any cash for it."

Before they could react to Jane's good fortune, they turned at the sound of Caroline's raised voice toward one of her employees. "Do I have to do everything around here? You know this dress should be highlighted in the center of the room. After all the work I've put into it, I must sell it. I can't believe Mrs. Barrington!"

Caroline handed a garment bag to her employee with a look of contempt and walked away without another word. In the blink of eye, she transformed; a refined smile graced her face as she approached a client who was eyeing one of her pricier creations.

The young woman she dismissed so rudely quickly got to business, but her face was flushed and her eyes looked glassy. Immediately, the three women approached. "Are you okay?" Jane asked pulling a tissue from her purse.

The saleswoman turned in astonishment. She nodded quickly and averted her eyes, not wanting Caroline to see her fraternizing with clients after such a scene. Lizzy immediately knew what was up. "Don't worry. None of us like her either."

"Lizzy!" Jane protested but just shook her head.

"Sorry, I'll just speak for myself. She and I don't get along, so don't think you'll worry her by talking to me. Are you okay?"

The woman laughed at Lizzy's blunt admission and it seemed to calm her. "I'm fine. I really shouldn't let her get to me. I'm just a softy though, and she was right. I'd forgotten to do it."

"That's no way to talk to anyone," Georgie piped in. She always suspected Caroline was rather duplicitous in her behaviour, and the way she treated this woman was proof.

"It's okay. Really. In this business, well, I'm not surprised she's a primadonn-" The lady stopped and looked at them all, aghast she'd let her feelings slip out.

They all smiled warmly, and Lizzy decided to take the woman's mind off things. She saw her name tag so she started with an introduction. "By the way, I'm Lizzy, this is Jane and Georgie, and I see you're Roberta."

"Actually, it's Bobbie for short, but Caroline didn't think that was professional enough."

"Bobbie it is then. What I want to know is what that gown looks like and what's the story behind Mrs. Barrington." Lizzy was intrigued.

Bobbie shook her head before starting. "I actually feel sorry for Ms. Bingley in this instance. This is one of our most expensive gowns. Mrs. Barrington commissioned Ms. Bingley to make it because she'd lost a lot of weight. Well, not only did she celebrate her weight loss by having a custom evening gown made, she found herself a young boyfriend too. Mr. Barrington found out and kicked her out. The dress isn't paid for and Mrs. Barrington doesn't want it now. I think it might be too small again anyway. But because it's custom made, there isn't a lot we can do with it."

Bobbie unzipped the bag and took out a truly beautiful, yet relatively simple gown. The ladies all admired it as she put it on the mannequin and noticed the model didn't seem to do it justice. Bobbie stood back and looked. "I remember why I didn't put it up. It almost looks better on a hanger. Mrs. Barrington was much shorter than the mannequins and a little more voluptuous. This does nothing for this gown." Bobbie stopped for a moment and looked at Lizzy. "You're about Mrs. Barrington's size ... I mean, when she lost the weight ... why don't you try it on? Then you'd get the full effect of how lovely it is."

Lizzy shook her head. "I don't think that's a good idea. I don't know if Caroline would like it if-"

She was interrupted by an announcement that Caroline was going to give a tour of her design studio upstairs for anyone interested. "There," Georgie exclaimed, "she's out of the way. I want to see this dress at its best. Do it for me, Lizzy."

After Bobbie, Jane and Georgie cajoled her for a minute or two, she finally gave in. It was a lovely satin crepe creation; the colour of candlelight. The gossamer fabric seemed to float and flicker on air as Bobbie placed it in the dressing room. Lizzy wasn't worried about being enticed as she'd no need for it; the diplomatic visit season was winding down. Besides, the dress was obviously for summer and though there was no price tag on it, Bobbie had said it was one of their most expensive pieces. No, Lizzy wasn't worried in the least about trying it on ... or so she thought.

She looked in the mirror.

Lizzy was no shrinking violet, she knew she had a fairly pretty face and figure, but somehow, in this design she was stunning. Every inch of the thin, layered material draped around her body in sheer perfection. After wearing it for three seconds, she couldn't imagine it had been made for anyone else.

She walked out of the dressing room, and they all just gaped, speechless. Lizzy lived in the moment until Georgie whispered, "You have to buy that."

Buy. That one little verb that woke Lizzy from her fantasy. She needed to be realistic and needed to ensure Georgie or Darcy didn't splurge for no other reason than a dress looked good on her ... well ... perfect, but she didn't want to think about that.

"No, Georgie, I don't. It's gorgeous, I'll give you that, but I have absolutely no need to buy it. I've got lots of gowns in my closet for work, and I even have one in a similar colour. It's far too formal for most of the events I attend. It's not my intention to look better than anyone else. I try to blend into the furniture most times."

Jane understood what Lizzy was saying and what she wasn't saying. She and Lizzy weren't born to this type of environment, where it wasn't surprising to see three or four zeros at the end of a price tag for a piece of clothing. Lizzy would never expect Darcy to provide her with such a luxury and that's the only person Jane knew who would consider buying something like this for her sister. Still, she couldn't stop herself. "You've never looked more beautiful, Lizzy."

"Thank you ladies, but it's not for me. Maybe Mrs. Barrington will get a chance to buy it after all." Before they could say anything else, Lizzy hurried into the dressing room. She did a little twirl in front of the mirror and felt a bit depressed. This was not to be. With one last look Lizzy came to a realization, Remember, Caroline made this dress. That helped take some of the shine off the creation and she was able to enjoy the evening without obsessing on the way it looked on her.

~ * ~

Caroline had wanted to speak to Georgie more during the course of the evening; however, she'd been reluctant to approach her since Lizzy never seemed to stray from her side. Finally, when the two headed for their coats, Caroline could hold out no longer. Moving towards them, she called out to her dear friend. "Georgie, I hope you've been having fun tonight." Caroline smiled warmly, and then sighed before adding, "Elizabeth. How lovely that you came tonight."

Lizzy did her best to smile back and answered honestly, "Thank you, Caroline. I'm quite impressed by your store. You've done quite a bit of work and it shows. Your clothing is lovely."

Caroline was clueless on how to take a compliment from a known adversary. She searched for some sarcasm or double meaning in Lizzy's tone and words, but there was nothing. She managed a suspicious, "Thank you," and continued her conversation with Georgie.

"So you're here for the weekend? Are you busy for breakfast on Sunday?"

"I'm afraid I am. William is having Jane and Charles over."

Caroline smiled, noticing Georgie hadn't mentioned Lizzy. Perhaps Darcy wasn't so smitten after all. "The four of you? How lovely."

"And Lizzy, of course," Georgie quickly added. She then turned to Lizzy with a look of expectation. "You and William are cooking, aren't you? This I have to see, or taste, as the case may be. William isn't used to serving other people."

Lizzy hid her amusement at Georgie's attempts to get under Caroline's skin. The girl was good - so sincere and innocent-looking. She's probably venting years of pent up frustration at not telling Caroline to shove it.

"Darcy knows a thing or two about the kitchen. He served me, Jane and Charles a lovely dinner a couple of weeks ago. I know he didn't cook it himself, but he made sure it didn't burn once Mrs. Reynolds had left for the day." As much as Lizzy loved to tease Darcy, she had a newly developed protective streak in her when he wasn't around.

"You must really love him to defend him so," Georgie noted with a shake of her head.

Caroline was reeling. Georgie and Lizzy were joking about The Tart's love in front of her! Georgie didn't seem concerned about Caroline's feelings at all! She almost seemed to be flaunting Lizzy's relationship with the man Caroline had devoted her life to loving. It was too much. She should have been basking in the glow of his pride at her accomplishments tonight, not listening to a silly conversation about Darcy actually trying to cook. Why would he even bother?

"Did I stop you two on the way to the door? Are you leaving already?" She wanted them out of her site. "It's getting a bit late for me. I had a long drive today to get here," Georgie explained.

"Drive? Why didn't you fly?" Caroline didn't understand Georgie at all.

"I was able to drive a couple of friends home too, and flying just increases my environmental footprint," Georgie answered with her best academic reasoning.

"I see." Caroline obviously didn't see, but she wasn't going to question Georgie any further. The girl didn't respect the reputation of her family and the fortunate circumstances into which she was born.

"Lizzy, are you ready to head home?" Georgie asked, wanting to get out of Caroline's presence.

"Yes. Do you mind dropping me off first? Quinn knows where I live."

"Why don't you just come back to Pemberley?" Georgie questioned. She knew perfectly well Lizzy was staying there more often than not. She could tell because certain things had been left around the house: a half-read romance novel in the solarium, a coffee mug with a very feminine looking hyacinth motif in the kitchen cupboard, a hairclip left in one of the upstairs bathrooms, and more obviously, a pair of woman's silk pyjamas in the laundry room. Georgie had run down to ask Mrs. Reynolds's help getting a stain off a blouse earlier in the day and had noticed the incriminating item.

"No, that's fine. Home is good for me," Lizzy answered lightly. Not wanting to discuss it any further she suggested, "Why don't I let you two say your goodbyes. I'll go get your wrap, okay? Goodnight Caroline."

Lizzy walked away a little faster than necessary and Caroline smirked. She again felt the need to explain to Georgie in a hushed tone. "Perhaps it wasn't wise to ask Elizabeth to join you back at Pemberley. She may be uncomfortable with that suggestion."

Georgie checked herself from sighing before asking, "Why?"

"Well, dear, Darcy no doubt keeps these things from you, but you probably shouldn't insinuate she can stay at your home overnight," Caroline still spoke as if letting her in on a secret.

"Oh," Georgie replied cautiously. "Why not?"

"Hmmm, how do I put this delicately. Darcy is not the type to bring one of his acquaintances home overnight."

"Are you trying to say William is ... still ... a virgin?" Georgie didn't need to fake her confusion or stunned expression. Caroline's comments were just plain odd. Georgie hadn't any proof of her brother's 'pursuits', of course, but word gets around, even to his sister.

"Oh, my darling girl, you're so innocent," Caroline laughed at Georgie's question while patting her shoulder.

If she calls me dear, darling or girl one more freakin' time, I'm going wind up and belt her, Georgie thought behind her placid demeanour. She remained silent, waiting for Caroline to elaborate.

Caroline stood there for a moment, evaluating the situation. Perhaps it wasn't a subject she should have brought up, but she was amused by Lizzy's hasty departure and couldn't resist opening her mouth. Now, she was stuck having to explain some things to Georgie about her brother that were better left unsaid. "It's a general rule with him that he does not bring a lady back to his home. He's never brought a woman back to Pemberley overnight."

"How do you know about anyone besides you?" Georgie couldn't help but ask a bit pertly.

"My dear," Caroline paused to think again about how she was going to word this explanation. Luckily for her, Georgie decided not to pursue physical violence because she wanted to hear what Caroline had to say. "You know I'm not a gossip, but I've heard some of his former acquaintances admi- relate this fact as well."

"I see," Georgie nodded. So, that would mean Lizzy is the only one. She was dying to say that out loud, but she knew she had no cause to, and besides, it would be no better than Caroline and her gossipy friends. "Thank you for letting me know. I'll know how to handle things now."

"You're such a sweet girl. Poor Elizabeth may be more sensitive than others about not spending time at Pemberley." The false sincerity in Caroline's voice was now tiresome to Georgie. She'd no idea how she'd put up with it for years.

"Goodnight Caroline." Georgie turned without waiting for a reply. She was no longer worried about what the woman thought of her or if William would be disappointed in her behaviour. Somehow, she doubted he would, as there were times when being courteous was no longer appropriate.

Georgie wondered what had taken Lizzy so long when she saw her sitting in the cloakroom adjusting her shoe. Upon spotting Georgie, Lizzy let out a huff. "My heel broke. One of the staff is getting some glue. Have a seat until he comes back."

After the conversation with Caroline, Georgie wanted nothing more than to have Lizzy go back to Pemberley for the night, just for spite, so whatever bashfulness remained with her brother's lover was now obliterated. Georgie got right to the point. "Why aren't you staying with us tonight?"

"That's none of your business!" Lizzy tried to laugh it off. "Perhaps your brother hasn't issued an invitation, perhaps I've turned one down, or perhaps I'd just like to be in my own room in my own bed."

"Come off it. I see the way William looks at you. He doesn't want to be away from you for a minute. It's not like you've never stayed overnight."

"What makes you say that?" Lizzy asked suspiciously.

"Besides the fact the night we met I ran down the stairs to see you two panting heavily, totally shocked at my presence?"

"Okay." Lizzy rolled her eyes. "Besides that."

"I saw your pyjamas today in the wash."

"So that's where they are! Mrs. Reynolds must have gotten a hold of them. I asked her not to do my laundry."

"See! I knew you'd stayed."

"Alright, I have, but that doesn't mean I need to stay over every night." Lizzy looked down to nervously fiddle with the broken heel as if there was something she could do to fix it. Georgie could tell something in this conversation was hitting close to home and she decided to follow her instincts.

"You don't need to stay every night? Can I ask then, since the night of the Hallowe'en party, how many nights have you and William been apart?" Georgie couldn't believe her boldness, but somehow she felt there was something she needed to know.


"Does that include tonight?"


"Does that include the night of the Hallowe'en party?"


"So, really ... one night." Lizzy nodded.

"And why didn't you stay with William that night?"

"He was in New York."

"And why aren't you staying tonight?"

"Because he and I decided to be apart tonight."

"Because I'm here." Georgie stated. There was no need to ask. She knew her brother too well. Ah, so now it makes sense. She felt like a regular Columbo as Lizzy simply nodded in agreement to her deduction.

"That's ridiculous. It's not like I don't know what's going on or that I disapprove. I couldn't care less if you two sleep together while I'm in the house. For crying out loud, William and I aren't even in the same wing. Unless we meet downstairs, we never see each other."

"He doesn't feel comfortable. You know you don't have a usual sister- brother relationship. He's as much of a father to you as your biological one, isn't he?"

"So what? He's a father figure of a certain age who has a girlfriend. He's more hung up on this than I am. Come home and I'll convince the two of you it's okay for you to stay."

Lizzy laughed and shook her head. "I wonder what's taking that guy so long with the glue?"

Caroline noticed Georgie and Lizzy hadn't emerged from the cloakroom and began to walk towards it when she saw a young waiter hired for the evening approaching. After giving him the third degree, she took the glue and said she'd deliver it personally. Though she should have left well enough alone, she just couldn't resist eavesdropping on the conversation that she expected would embarrass Lizzy. As she stood outside the open door, she heard the whole exchange. In her heart, she knew the last nail of the coffin was being hammered. She wanted to die. She had no more tricks up her sleeve, and she knew she hadn't the energy to run her business with her own money and try to reclaim Darcy's affection. She had to choose, as if she really had a choice. She knew he was making an enormous mistake and perhaps when his infatuation ended, she could be there to pick up his pieces.

While passing off the glue to yet another employee, she thought no more of it. She just stored her feelings away until such time as Darcy was ready to renew them, and if by some strange cruel twist, Darcy married this woman, she knew she was a valuable catch. She would make him sorry for ever letting her slip through his fingers. That's what she kept telling herself, anyway.

~ * ~

With shoe temporarily repaired, Lizzy and Georgie made their way to Quinn and the car. Georgie wisely allowed Lizzy to enter the vehicle first and told Quinn quietly, "William called me on my cell phone. No matter what Lizzy says, take us both back to Pemberley. He wants to speak with us."

Georgie was again startled by her deviousness. It was true that at university she had become confident and self-assured, speaking her mind with her peers, but here, among established career women she amazed herself by suddenly being sneaky in order to get what she wanted! She didn't feel bad about it; Caroline didn't deserve her sympathy and she was merely getting Lizzy to Pemberley so they could discuss the issue at hand like rational adults. At least, she hoped that would happen. She had a sneaking suspicion William might get high-handed and send her to her room, treating her in the same manner as Caroline had all evening.

By the time they made it to Pemberley, Lizzy had attempted to convince Quinn to turn around three times, and as bad as he felt about denying her request, he knew he'd be in far deeper trouble if Mr. Darcy's call was ignored.

Lizzy didn't know whether to be angry or amused by Georgie's behaviour. Darcy had always given her the impression that his sister was demure and slightly impassive. The girl before her reminded her of Darcy himself with her orders to Quinn.

Darcy was reading a manuscript while lounging on the chesterfield in the drawing room when he heard the door. He stood in expectation of his sister but was delighted to see Lizzy had returned. He assumed she came back for a quick visit and smiled with satisfaction. It was obvious Lizzy still couldn't get enough of him. Her first words quickly dashed that cocky thought and wiped away the smirk on his face.

"Hello Fitzwilliam. I think I should let you know, your sister lied to Quinn to get me back here. Perhaps you'd like to ask her why while I go and get a glass of water." Georgie was also shocked at Lizzy's abrupt divulgence of the facts. However, she quickly stopped Lizzy from leaving by grabbing her arm. With a pleading smile, Georgie hoped Lizzy wouldn't be upset with her for what she was now going to say. "No, no. You're the guest in this house. I'll get you the water. You're not going to force me to have this conversation. You know what I think. The rest is for the two of you to decide."

"But we've already decided," Lizzy insisted. She wasn't angry with Georgie; she was a little exasperated though.

"Not really. You didn't have all the facts. Now you know my feelings about this so now you can talk about it. Okay?" Georgie may have been strong in the face of Caroline and Lizzy, but she really didn't want to talk to William about his nocturnal behaviour. As mature as she wanted to be, she was still 19 and he was still her older, intimidating brother. He probably wouldn't allow a debate anyway, and she did have a point about the two of them needing to discuss it.

"What's going on?" Darcy was now seriously confused and, unsurprisingly, detested the feeling.

Georgie peeled out of the room to 'allow' them privacy, so Lizzy explained, "Georgie feels I should stay the night."

"Georgie spoke to you about us?" Darcy was taken aback by the subject matter.

"Not details. She just knew I've stayed overnight before, and she thought it was immature of us to be separated tonight because of her."

"She actually discussed this with you?" Darcy was as shocked at Georgie's outspokenness as he was with the topic. She had slowly evolved into a mature, competent adult this past year and a half, but at times like these it seemed she was a whole other species of woman. He didn't know whether he liked it or not.

"Yes, Fitzwilliam," Lizzy replied with a furrowed brow. "I just told you she did."

"I'm just surprised."

"To be honest, so was I. I explained to her why we felt it was best not to be together while she was home, and she thought you should stopped hiding things from her. She said she couldn't care less if I stayed overnight. I'm not uncomfortable with either staying or leaving. Now, the question is, how do you feel?"

Darcy was uncertain. He really didn't want Lizzy to leave now that she was here, but he didn't know how he'd feel if all three of them were in the kitchen at breakfast together. He wasn't necessarily that old- fashioned; he'd just never experienced it.

Lizzy waited patiently as he thought about his options. She couldn't help but smile at his pensive countenance.

He thought about not having Lizzy next to him, and it did not suit him at all, but Georgie... he would feel awkward bumping into her in the drawing room, or wherever, were he and Lizzy to be intimate while she was at home.

There was also the issue of their privacy. In his own home, Darcy did what he wanted because no one was there to witness it. He was constantly touching Lizzy, a brush of an arm here, a kiss on the nape of her neck, and well, truthfully, a grope of her breast from time to time. Would he slip up? Would he forget Georgie was around and do something embarrassing? He didn't think so, but there was also the possibility that Lizzy would do something just as irreverent. She had a penchant for squeezing his butt and commenting on its tightness. Perhaps she would continue this behaviour, not thinking anything of it.

Was it worth the risk to have Lizzy stay? Georgie was comfortable with it, Lizzy was comfortable with it, and though he wasn't completely at ease with the idea, the alternative wasn't to his liking either. It had been hard enough to say goodbye to Lizzy earlier, now that he was ready to head off to bed, it was virtually impossible to think of her not joining him.

Lizzy was no longer patient. She sighed heavily, indicating his time was up. When he hadn't noticed, she started humming the theme to Jeopardy. He took the hint.

"I would like you to stay, as long as you're willing."

He was so formal and serious, she chuckled impudently. "Fitzwilliam, you can be so melodramatic."

His arms outstretched in indignation, he huffed, "Hey, this is a big step for me."

"Then it's good you have a little sister to push you when you need guidance." Lizzy winked.

"Yes, perhaps we should go let her know I'm obeying her orders." Darcy smiled sardonically before they went in search of what would soon be a very self-satisfied Georgiana Darcy.

~ * ~

Across the river at a gaming table at the Lac Leamy Casino, another couple enjoyed a prosperous night. The lady was ever-attentive and flattering to her man, exclaiming with glee when he won his hand in Black Jack or when the roulette wheel stopped at the appropriate number. Wickham was on a hot streak that night, and Lydia was again enjoying being on the arm of a known local celebrity in the high rollers' room. No one asked for her identification, she drank champagne and acted as if she'd been frequenting the casino for years.

It didn't matter that George made frequent excuses when she tried to see him more than twice a week. It didn't matter that other women regularly approached him with overly familiar manners that he only seemed to encourage. George provided her with an incredibly exciting lifestyle and in return she provided him with an enthusiastic and obliging partner at the casino... and anywhere else he wanted her. As far as she was concerned, she was still having the time of her life.

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