Beginning, Section II
Posted on 2011-09-13
Though Darcy had been mostly silent during Sunday lunch with the Bennets and the Bingleys, he had enjoyed himself immensely. The conversation had flowed around him and enveloped him. He was comfortable. They were not strangers to him; after all, he had been part of the Bennet family for more than eighteen years, since the moment of Elizabeth's conception.
It is rather strange that I know them so well, and they know me hardly at all, he had thought.
Following the meal, Elizabeth and Janna helped Lynne clear the table. With that task completed, Elizabeth turned to her mother with a smile. "Mom, you and Janna go visit with our guests. I'll load the dishwasher and be with you in a few minutes."
"Thank you, El," Lynne said, kissing her younger daughter on the cheek. "Come, Janna. I think we'll need to fuss over you a little more, now that you're carrying my grandchild."
Janna laughed. "Are you sure, El? I don't mind helping you."
Darcy had paused in the doorway to the den, listening to the women talk. "I will help Elizabeth," he offered, surprising the Bennet ladies. As they started to protest, he held up his hand to stop them. "It is the least I can do, Mrs. Bennet. The meal was superb, and I so appreciate being invited. As I am too large to be decorative, it would be good for me to be useful. Do you not agree?"
He had taken off his coat and hung it on the back of his chair before lunch. His tailored shirt fit his athletic build to perfection as he stood straight and tall, looking toward Lynne for her acquiescence.
Not 'decorative'? He is easily the handsomest man I have ever seen, Lynne thought, amused.
Niall sniffed. She has not known an extensive number of men, obviously.
Michael chuckled at Niall's joke.
Darcy looked down at the floor to hide his smile.
"If you really want to help Elizabeth, I certainly will not stop you," Lynne said lightly. She and Janna left the kitchen to join the others. I think he wants to be alone with Elizabeth. That's what I think. Well, I won't stand in his way.
I have always liked her. Darcy quickly lifted his head a little, turned his face away from Elizabeth, and winked at Niall.
Niall snorted as he and Alexis followed their charges from the room while Gabriel and Michael remained with Darcy and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth looked up at him with a teasing smile. "And just how good are you at loading dishes, Fitzwilliam? You know, I am perfectly capable of doing this all by myself, but I would enjoy talking with you while I work."
Darcy leaned on the counter, watching her graceful movements as she emptied the food into the garbage disposal, rinsed the dishes, and placed them in the dishwasher in orderly rows. Her hair swung back and forth as she worked. He longed to reach out and touch it.
Could it possibly feel as silky as it looks? I have embraced her in angelic form, but not as a human since she was a child. I must occupy myself before I do something foolish.
That would be wise, thought Gabriel.
"At least give me a wet cloth and let me wipe the table and counters," Darcy offered.
"If you insist," she said, handing him a dishcloth.
The kitchen and dining room formed one large area, so Elizabeth was still visible to Darcy as she worked. His stomach tightened every time she leaned over to put another item in the machine. Watching her move does something to me. He turned his back to her and finished wiping every surface available, making a concerted effort not to look at her. After he finished, he took the cloth back to her and stood behind her, waiting quietly for her to notice that he was there.
Elizabeth was absently humming a worship song they had sung that morning in church, and she did not hear him approach her. She efficiently put the last plate into the washer, squirted the detergent into the compartment and closed it, and then shut the door and started the pre-wash cycle. She turned quickly with the intention of getting Darcy to go with her to the music room and nearly bumped into him. Her hands came up in a reflex action and rested on his chest. They stood there for a moment without breathing. Unable to stop himself, he leaned towards her and lowered his face to hers. She closed her eyes, and Michael cleared his throat. Darcy caught himself just in time. He straightened up, and they both started talking at once.
Elizabeth's eyes flew open wide. "Oh, excuse me! I didn't see you there," she exclaimed, blushing furiously. Did he almost kiss me?
"Here is the dishcloth. I finished wiping the table and the counters, and now I await further instructions," he said quickly, holding the cloth higher so that she could see it. Actually, yes, I did almost kiss you. Would you have liked that?
Slow down, Darcy, cautioned Gabriel.
Listening from the living room, Niall added, According to my observations, Christian human males usually wait until at least the third date to kiss a girl. Do not rush her.
Niall is the expert here, chuckled Michael.
She realized that her hands were still on his chest, and he was holding out the cloth with a quizzical expression on his flawless face.
I could stand here all day, Elizabeth. I will never pull away from your touch. Do not expect me to step back from you.
She dropped one hand by her side and took the cloth from his hand with the other. "Thank you," she said as she put the cloth in the sink to her left. He smells wonderful. Get a grip on yourself, El.
"My pleasure," Darcy replied with a lazy smile. She is not unaffected by my presence.
Michael grinned. Very good, my friend.
Do not become overconfident, cautioned Gabriel.
There are at least two too many voices in my head right now, thought Darcy a little impatiently. Guardians should rarely be seen and seldom heard.
Blessed silence reigned in his mind.
"Shall we go to the music room, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth asked, her face turned up to his as a small smile played about her lips.
Is that an invitation? If you keep looking up at me like that, you will certainly get what you are asking for.
"I am not afraid of you, Miss Bennet. I am ready for my audition," he said, his blue eyes holding hers in a clear challenge.
She did not look away. Instead, a decided twinkle appeared in her eyes.
"I'll be the judge of that. I hope you've been practicing. You know you'll never play really well unless you do." She raised one eyebrow and pursed her lips in an effort to keep from smiling.
"Lead the way, fair lady."
"Anywhere." He breathed the word so softly that she could not be sure she had heard him correctly.
They walked through the den on their way to the music room.
"We're going to go over some music for next Sunday. I'll close the door so that we don't bother you," Elizabeth said, looking from her father to her mother. "Janna, Chance, Mrs. Bingley, Caroline, we'll be back out here soon. I hope you won't leave before we can tell you goodbye."
"We'll be here for a while," answered Chance.
Leave that door open, cracked Niall, looking sternly at Darcy. Roark suppressed a smile.
David nodded at Elizabeth, and she and Darcy continued down the hall, followed by Michael and Gabriel.
As if Michael and Gabriel would let me get away with anything, thought Darcy, grumbling.
Not a chance, little brother. Michael laughed.
Darcy rolled his eyes. Occasionally seen and rarely heard, please.
Elizabeth opened the door and entered the music room, waiting for Darcy to follow her.
She gestured toward the instrument, and Darcy went to the piano. Michael and Gabriel stood behind Darcy, and Elizabeth took her place to his right. He moved the bench back several feet to accommodate his long legs and allow him room to lean into the keyboard. Then he began to play his own arrangement of Agnus Dei, a song based on the Latin phrase meaning "The Lamb of God," by Michael W. Smith. After he had played once through the entire song, he began to sing in a rich baritone.
Elizabeth was speechless. Listening to Darcy interpret the music was a spiritual experience. I don't think I've ever heard anything so beautiful before. It's as if Fitzwilliam is singing of someone he knows personally. Where has he been all this time? How is it that I've never heard of him until now?
His large hands easily spanned twelve notes, an octave and a half, yet he had such dexterity and delicacy that the piano wept under his masterful fingers. She could easily play runs of parallel thirds with her right hand, but he played them in both hands simultaneously. His hands moved so rapidly that octave runs were like glissandos. Darcy did not play with a better technique or more skill than Elizabeth, but his advantages in strength, power, and hand span gave him more options.
Darcy finally lifted his hands from the keys, bowed his head for a moment, and then looked up at Elizabeth. She had tears in her eyes, and he was moved by her emotion. It was a moment of perfect communion between their hearts and Jehovah's. The Spirit in him gave witness to the Spirit in her.
"You were praying that song," she stated simply.
He exhaled slowly. "Yes. You understand."
"It was an offering."
"All of my music is an offering to Him," Darcy stated.
"Do you play classical music?" she asked.
"I play all types of music, but nothing moves me like using my gift in praise to the Almighty. He has been so good to me. He has forgiven me, He has accepted me, and He has changed me. When I stood at the foot of His cross, I did not know that He was suffering that for me, but since He redeemed me, it has all become clear. He died for me. He loves me. When no one else loved me, He did."
Hearing her mind, Darcy knew that Elizabeth thought he was speaking figuratively. It was beyond her comprehension to think that he spoke literally of being at the foot of Jesus' cross.
"Fitzwilliam, do you remember the man who came to meet me after the concert last weekend, John Edwards?"
"Of course. I have not forgotten any of the time we have spent together." Darcy smiled.
Tread lightly, Darcy. She will begin to wonder what you mean when you speak in riddles, thought Michael.
"John asked me to join with him in ministry. He wants me to play and sing at his evangelistic rallies. I have been considering his proposal very carefully, and I have spent much time in prayer about it. I would travel only on weekends while I'm still in school, and I have prior commitments for concerts that I will not cancel, but I would like to see how God can use me. Would you consider joining with us? You and I could do the music together, and John could preach."
Darcy's face lit up with his excitement. "You would have me with you? To serve God is my heart's desire." His expression became serious as he continued, "I must be honest with you, however."
"I value honesty very highly. What is it that you want to say?"
He moved to the left side of the bench and patted the right side, asking her to sit with him. She sat down and looked up at him with trusting eyes.
"Elizabeth, I want you to know my intentions toward you before I agree to join with you in ministry." His blue eyes were intense as they held hers.
She caught her breath.
He took her left hand and held it with both of his. "Elizabeth, I already have strong feelings for you. I will wait until you get to know me, but you should know from the outset that I am hoping for a relationship with you. To be with you is another desire of my heart."
She laughed a little nervously. "That is certainly direct - and honest. If you are willing to give me time and take this slowly, I think that working together in ministry might show us both if a relationship between us could work."
He smiled his most charming smile. "Then I would consider it a great privilege to be your partner in ministry. First things first, however. What music are we going to do next Sunday for the worship service?"
Elizabeth thought a moment. "I hope you will consent to play and sing Agnus Dei just as you did a few minutes ago. There is nothing I could add to improve it."
"Will you at least sing it with me?"
"What did you have in mind?"
He spent a few moments explaining his ideas for a duet, and she consented, agreeing that his arrangement would make the vocal component even better than his solo.
He reluctantly released her hand. When he began to play again, she stood beside him to sing, her high soprano lifting the opening "Alleluia" two octaves above where he had sung it. As she continued to sing, the door opened to reveal David and Lynne smiling at them. Darcy stopped playing as he and Elizabeth looked at her parents.
David spoke. "We can hear a little of what you are singing and playing, and I feel as if I'm attending a worship service in heaven before the throne. Do you mind if we leave the door opened so we can hear?"
"Dad, you know how we musicians feel about anyone listening to us practice. It's not polished yet. We haven't worked out all the kinks. Anyway, we're going to do it next Sunday morning in church." Elizabeth made a little grimace.
"It sounds fine to me already, El. I won't mind hearing it twice. Please?" Lynne asked, ruffling her hair.
Darcy spoke up. "I do not mind as long as Elizabeth agrees. Could we indulge them this once?" he asked Elizabeth, smiling at her.
"Okay. I'm outnumbered it seems. But you know you're going to hear all of our mistakes," she said with a small frown.
Darcy began the instrumental portion again, and Elizabeth began singing alone at the point in the music indicated by Darcy. He joined her on "Worthy is the lamb," their voices blending perfectly, swelling throughout the song. They were unaware that the eyes of everyone listening, human and angel alike, had closed, shutting out everything except the music. The guardians knew that no demon could breach that barrier of worship and praise.
Darcy and Elizabeth sat quietly as if in prayer for a few moments after they finished.
David looked at them side-by-side, their dark heads bowed together, and thought, They belong together. It is as if they were made for each other. Aloud he said, "Thank you for allowing us to share that. I'm really looking forward to hearing it again next Sunday. If it was that wonderful 'unpolished,' I can't wait to hear it after you have actually worked on it."
Everyone laughed at his joke. After a round of farewells, Anne and Caroline took Janna and Chance home with them to spend the remainder of the afternoon. Anne especially wanted to tell Donald that he was going to be a grandfather.
The Bennets invited Darcy to spend the afternoon with them so that he would be in town for evening services at Tabernacle. He and Elizabeth spent the time together in the music room, arranging music and playing duets.
Across the street, up in the cover of the pine trees, sat two demons, motionless and quiet. They had watched as Darcy and Elizabeth had entered her home followed by Michael and Gabriel, and they had listened to the two of them playing the piano and singing together. As soon as the family left for evening services at Tabernacle, they took flight into the gathering darkness.
Darcy hummed to himself as he dressed for his first day of classes at Converse. As he left his townhouse and headed for his car, he noticed that the day was clear and brisk, and he was thankful for his warm jacket as he braved the chilly January weather. He breathed deeply and was exhilarated by the feeling of the cold air in his lungs.
He was optimistic about the direction that his relationship with Elizabeth was taking, and he was delighted to have an excuse to spend part of each day with her. As he drove to the campus with Gabriel flying overhead, he suddenly realized that his guardian had not yet spoken a word.
What are you thinking? Darcy asked.
You are happy. You do not need to know what I am thinking, was the short reply.
Darcy drew his brows together. Is there some reason I should not be happy?
No. Elizabeth enjoys being with you when you are in a good mood. I would not spoil it.
Too late. Tell me why you are silent, said Darcy, a little too forcefully.
If you insist. I have been thinking about Gregory. You will meet him today. He is her friend, and you must not forget that. Gabriel was reasonable as usual.
I am not likely to forget it. I have been forced to be in his presence for the past two and a half years, Darcy's tone was terse.
You have been in angelic form nearly all of that time. Today, you will meet him as a human. With your dual nature, you are fully human and fully angel. You will be totally human when you are with him.
I know that! What is your point? Darcy nearly ran a red light.
Gabriel moderated his tone carefully. You are more emotional when you are human, Darcy. Even now you are losing your temper with me, and I am your friend. He is your enemy and your competition for Elizabeth's affections. You must be in complete control of your feelings. Gregory has lived as a human all of his life. He is well-practiced in deceit and disguise. He will not make an error, and you must not make one either.
Darcy bit back the retort that was on his tongue and took a deep breath. You are right, as usual, Gabriel. I have had this nature for only a few months. You may have to help me today.
Would you accept my help?
Darcy sighed. He knew he deserved that question. Yes, I am asking for your help. If I begin to show my feelings for him, tell me so. I do not always know how I am being perceived by others. You are my guardian, and I respect that. I will let you do your job from now on. Speak peace to me when I need it.
We have made progress. Now watch your driving. I do not want to meet a death angel today.
Darcy chuckled. You are a good friend, Gabriel.
I am your brother.
They were quiet during the rest of the drive to Converse, but it was the comfortable silence of old friends.
Darcy was put to the test as he walked with Elizabeth to his second class of the day. He saw Gregory walking toward them on the sidewalk, dressed to kill, with a big smile on his face. If he is surprised, he hides it well.
Gabriel and Michael seemed unusually large as they stepped up beside their charges, facing down Gregory's guards.
As soon as he was close enough, Gregory reached out his arms for Elizabeth, enveloping her in a bear hug and depositing a kiss on her cheek. Over her shoulder, he smiled maliciously into Darcy's glare. He then held her at arm's length by her shoulders, smiling into her eyes.
Gabriel put a hand on Darcy's shoulder. This is the part where I remind you to be calm.
Then I guess this is also the part where I listen to you. With great effort, Darcy relaxed.
"El, it's wonderful to see you. I've really missed you over the break. We must get together and catch up."
Gregory ignored Darcy totally. His guards snickered.
"I've been very busy, Gregory. Did you have a good Christmas?" she asked.
"Oh, yes! I just love Christmas. All the decorations, gifts, and Santa Claus - and those parties! How about you?"
Yes, I bet you just love Christmas, thought Darcy, narrowing his eyes.
"It was wonderful. The celebration of Christ's birth is my favorite holiday. I made a new friend on the way to Toronto. I think you know Fitzwilliam Darcy?" she said, looking from Gregory to Darcy.
"I do? Well, yes, I guess we've met, though it's been awhile. How have you been, Darcy?" asked Gregory smoothly.
"Fine, Gregory, thank you. I told Elizabeth that your father used to work for mine, but that we have been out of touch for many years now." Darcy smiled at him.
Michael laughed out loud. Gregory's guards took a step forward, but held their places when they saw Gabriel and Michael rest their hands casually on the hilts of their swords.
Darcy saw Gregory's amber eyes flash red with anger, but Elizabeth had been looking at Darcy at that instant. Gregory closed his eyes for a moment and breathed deeply. When he reopened his eyes, they were amber again. "I suppose you would look at it that way, Darcy, though I wouldn't say my father ever worked for yours."
Elizabeth, feeling the tension, looked carefully at each of the men. Darcy appeared to be relaxed, but Gregory seemed to be having trouble controlling his temper. What could have made him so upset? There was no insult in Fitzwilliam's words.
Gregory plastered a smile on his face. "It is of little importance now. El, will you be my guest at lunch today? I have missed our conversations, and I have a Christmas gift for you." He directed his full attention to Elizabeth.
Darcy smiled. His blue eyes were wide and innocent.
Oh, this is good, chortled Michael.
"I'm so sorry, Gregory," said Elizabeth, looking disconcerted. "Fitzwilliam asked me yesterday to have lunch with him today. We already have plans. Maybe another time?"
"You can count on it," replied Gregory, his charming smile evaporating.
As Elizabeth and Darcy hurried to class, he glanced back to see Gregory, still standing stiffly in the same spot, glaring after them. Darcy narrowed his eyes as he noticed a shadow of evil pass over Gregory's face; his amber eyes again glowed red as the rage overtook him. Seeing Gregory's face and eyes in Darcy's mind, Gabriel and Michael faced the halfling and stepped together, assuming defensive stances, forming a wall of protection between the Dark Prince and their charges.
Darcy returned his attention to Elizabeth. In a gesture of intimacy, he raised the hood of Elizabeth's coat over her curls and put his arm around her, speaking to her in a low voice.
"It is really cold out here. Let me take care of you. I do not want you to become ill."
She smiled up at him, her brown eyes trusting his intentions to be exactly as he stated them.
Darcy was sure that he heard Gregory swear, but his hearing was much better than the average human's, and Elizabeth did not catch his oath. Gregory and his guards headed toward the parking lot.
Round one goes to Darcy, said Michael with satisfaction, turning with Gabriel to follow the couple into the building.
Posted on 2011-09-20
Gregory was very angry. In fact, he had never before been so enraged as he was now. Watching Darcy walk off with Elizabeth after he had put so much effort into developing a relationship with her for himself was too much to be tolerated. He barely contained his wrath long enough to stalk to his car and drive to the house he had recently purchased in Spartanburg. He would no longer chance anyone seeing him change, and his situation with Elizabeth was precarious. In the cover of his home, he took demonic form, and, flanked by his guards, winged his way to his father's mansion to apprise him of the situation.
Lucifer, surrounded by his malevolent contingent, looked up from the hardcore pornographic movie scene being filmed before him as his son, accompanied by his guards, flew through the wall. Gregory, eyes blazing red hot, stood before his father as he lounged on a leather couch. The Prince of Darkness rose gracefully and walked into the next room; his son and their guards followed him.
The Dark Lord turned to face his son. "Are you not supposed to be in classes with Elizabeth now, Gregory?" Lucifer asked, his eyebrows raised.
Gregory began to pace in fury before the Dark Lord.
"I am here on a matter that is most pressing, Father. It has the potential to derail all of our plans. The rumors we have heard about Xander are apparently true. He has taken human form and now bears his human name, Fitzwilliam Alexander Darcy. He has enrolled at Converse and has already been developing an intimate relationship with Elizabeth Bennet. Michael and Gabriel were both with him. It appears that Michael is guarding Elizabeth while Gabriel is with Darcy."
"Is there truly a need for such anxiety and wrath, my son? You are far more skilled at being human than Darcy could ever be. You are all that is charming and physically attractive to a woman. Darcy has no experience in such matters. The idea of his romancing a woman is laughable. I may have to go watch some of his attempts myself. It could prove to be most entertaining - more so than what I have been watching. The world calls that erotic." He laughed in derision. "They have no idea of the pleasures attainable to those who would avail themselves."
"He was doing very well with her today, right before my eyes. Darcy has already been invited to her home, according to my spies, and it appears that our adversary has gifted him in music. They heard him as he played the piano and sang with her yesterday. He attends church with her. I cannot go to her home or her church; I have no entry. Darcy will disrupt all of our plans if we do not find a way to stop him."
"What do you propose, Gregory?"
Gregory stopped and looked at Lucifer with calmer, amber eyes. "Elizabeth's best friend, Charlotte Lucas, seems suspicious of me. I need someone on the inside to influence Elizabeth against Charlotte and Darcy. I do not want a human who could be swayed by the enemy, as Caroline Bingley has been, or even a human who does our bidding. I know that there are few demons who take the human form of a female, but I require one. There is never a question of where a demon's allegiances lie."
The Prince of Darkness sat up gracefully and crossed his legs. "I know the perfect choice for the job. Cassandra - yes, she will do very well for the job, very well indeed." He turned to one of his guards and commanded, "Duncan, go fetch Cassandra immediately. Bring her to us. We shall be awaiting your return."
Duncan turned on his heel and spread his leathery wings as he flashed through the ceiling, eager to do his master's bidding.
Lucifer turned to his son. "Do you require anything else, Gregory?"
"Yes, Father. There is something that I want. It will be difficult to procure, but I want it by tomorrow, in case Cassandra does not do well. It may take some time for her to gain a place in Elizabeth's confidence, and I must take action myself before
Darcy worms his way into her affections."
Lucifer's laugh was quiet and unpleasant. "I am the god of this world, Gregory. Anything here is mine for the taking; I own it all. What do you require? You have only to name it, and you shall have it."
The following day, Darcy and Gabriel were approaching Elizabeth and Charlotte as the girls hurried along the sidewalk at school, followed closely by Michael and Edward, when a striking black-haired girl, who was just in front of Darcy, called Elizabeth's name. Darcy stiffened as he caught the tall, slender girl's scent and realized that she was a demon in human form; he increased his pace to reach Elizabeth and Charlotte. Michael and Edward had already moved to stand beside their charges, ready to defend against an attack. The girl, of course, could see the guardians, but she did not acknowledge them in any way.
The demon's mind was closed to them, but her presence was an indication of a change in Gregory's strategy, and therefore, she was automatically considered to be a grave threat.
As Darcy stopped beside the demon, he heard her introduce herself in a melodic voice.
"Hello. Aren't you El Bennet? I'm a friend of Gregory's and a huge fan of yours, so I just had to meet you. My name is Cassandra." She extended her hand. Darcy was close behind the girl, and he stepped up beside her to be closer to Elizabeth.
A friend of Gregory's? What a shock.
Darcy cringed inwardly at the idea of the fiend touching Elizabeth, but there was nothing he could do to prevent her from shaking hands with the girl.
Elizabeth smiled and returned the greeting. "Thank you so much, Cassandra. This is my friend, Charlotte Lucas. And this is Fitzwilliam Darcy."
Charlotte nodded and shook Cassandra's hand as Michael and Edward scowled. Darcy could not bring himself to make physical contact with the dark one, so he nodded his greeting, making a show of holding his books while reaching for Elizabeth's, and tried to smile.
A bold move. He is sending a spy directly into the enemy's camp. There was a hint of grudging admiration in Michael's thoughts. The warrior could recognize an excellent strategy.
"I just started here today, and I don't know my way around yet. Could I tag along with you and your friends for now?" Cassandra asked.
Elizabeth really did not know what to say to the unusual request. "Are you majoring in music? Fitzwilliam and I are on our way to a master's level theory class. Char is a junior year business major. Are you sure you want to go with any of us?"
Cassandra took a moment to think about it. "You have a point," she laughed. "I'm in freshman courses. Could I meet you for lunch?"
"We'll be in the Gee dining hall at 12:30. Join our table if you're in there at the same time. We really have to go now, or we'll be late." Elizabeth and Char smiled at her, while Darcy looked directly into her eyes with no hint of friendliness. After saying their goodbyes, they left for their classes.
Darcy saw Cassandra as soon as she entered the dining hall, promptly at 12:30. After she went through the cafeteria line, making her selections very quickly, she joined Darcy, Elizabeth, and Charlotte.
She smiled as she took the only available seat, which happened to be to the right of Darcy and across from Elizabeth. He tried not to be obvious while he moved his chair further away from her. Michael, Gabriel, and Edward hovered protectively just behind the shoulders of their charges.
She certainly is beautiful, commented Michael, his green eyes boring holes into her.
But she stinks to high heaven. My nose is burning so much from her foul odor that I do not know how I will be able to eat. She turns my stomach, Darcy sniffed.
Evil is always beautiful at first, observed Gabriel calmly. That is one way Lucifer entraps humans. 'The lust of the eyes' was the first step to Eve's downfall in the Garden of Eden.
"How was your morning, Cassandra? Did you enjoy your classes?" asked Elizabeth kindly.
"Oh, yes! But I've just moved here from south Florida, and I'm freezing. The most I ever needed in Fort Lauderdale was the occasional sweater or light jacket. I really must buy some heavier winter clothes," Cassandra said with a slight shiver.
"There's a mall not far from here," said Charlotte.
"I live here on campus in a dorm, and I don't have a car." Cassandra left the statement hanging.
Elizabeth's compassionate nature took over.
"I'd be happy to take you shopping tomorrow after classes, if you'd like. I can ask my mom if we can drive separately. She works here as a tutor."
Offer to ride with them, whispered Edward in Charlotte's ear.
Who is this girl? She gives me the chills - just like Gregory does. Elizabeth isn't going anywhere with her alone. For all we know, she could be an ax murderer, thought Charlotte.
Charlotte spoke up quickly. "I'll ride with you, El. I could use a shopping trip, too. I need some new boots."
"I have a better idea - at least I think it is better," interjected Darcy. "Ride here in the morning with your mother, Elizabeth, and I can take you girls shopping and then back home afterwards. I need to learn my way around Spartanburg, and you and Charlotte can help me get my bearings while I drive all of you wherever you want to go."
Excellent plan, Darcy. Michael smiled.
I will have to have my car fumigated, but it cannot be avoided, Darcy replied, his eyes never leaving Cassandra's.
Cassandra's eyes glittered at Darcy for a moment with just a hint of malice. Elizabeth was looking at Charlotte with a question in her eyes, but Charlotte caught the look that passed between Cassandra and Darcy.
Woah! What was that look? She glared at Fitzwilliam as if she'd like to strangle him. I'm expecting to see her head spin in a complete rotation anytime now. Can we call an exorcist, stat, please? Linda Blair's pea soup can't be far behind.
"What do you think, Char? Can we stand Fitzwilliam for a few extra hours tomorrow?" queried Elizabeth, her brown eyes sparkling.
Oh, definitely! Let creepy Cassandra try something with Hercules around.
Hercules? smirked Michael.
I hear that quite often, answered Darcy.
"Yes, I think he's just the man for the job. We can get him a chauffeur's hat. Be sure to wear black tomorrow, Fitzwilliam." Charlotte kept her expression serious.
"Wow! This all sounds great, but tomorrow's not good for me. I'll have to take a rain check. Thanks anyhow, guys,"
Cassandra said, smiling brightly. "And now I need to rush to make my next class. I'll catch you later." She gathered her things quickly and left.
"Hmmm. Strange," said Charlotte, watching her walk from the room. She turned her head to look at Elizabeth. "El, please don't let her talk you into going anywhere with her by yourself. I have a bad feeling about her. And while I'm being honest, let me add that Gregory gives me that same weird vibe. He is too perfect."
"She is a bit odd. I will bow to your superior radar and promise never to go anywhere with her alone. However, I've known Gregory a long time, and he's always been nice to me. Being extraordinarily handsome is not a crime, though he is quite smooth and plausible. I will allow that what seems too good to be true usually is." Elizabeth laughed.
Charlotte smiled at her friend. "I'll take the promise concerning Cassandra for the present. Remember that I've known Gregory as long as you have. We'll discuss him more later. Now, what about our shopping trip? I really do need some winter boots."
Darcy entered the discussion. "I still like the idea. Charlotte, let me take you and Elizabeth shopping and then out to dinner on me. I rarely get the opportunity to take two lovely ladies out at the same time," he said easily, bestowing his best smile on them.
Who can refuse the dimples? thought Charlotte, a little dreamily.
The dimples? asked Gabriel as Michael stood by shaking his head and smiling.
I hear that very often as well, thought Darcy, a bit smugly.
"Sounds good to me. How about you, El?" asked Charlotte.
Elizabeth smiled brightly, letting her double-dimple show. "Are you sure you don't mind taking us home afterwards, Fitzwilliam? I think that Mom would let me drive."
"Or I could drive in the morning, El," offered Charlotte.
"I absolutely insist on driving both of you home. I take being a gentleman very seriously, I assure you," Darcy replied, a small smile playing about his lips.
Elizabeth bit her lower lip as she thought about the things she should do the next evening instead of going out.
"I promise to have you home by eight." Darcy let the smile grow a little wider.
It's as if he can read my mind, thought Elizabeth. His smile should be registered as a lethal weapon.
"Well, I suppose I can get my work done if you promise to have us home early. Our last class is over at three. We can shop for a few hours and eat by six."
"Excellent. I will not have to eat alone tomorrow night," answered Darcy, with just the right hint of a pout.
Charlotte nearly snorted. As if you would ever have to eat alone except by your own choice.
Darcy and Gabriel joined Michael in guarding Elizabeth that afternoon. Darcy still felt anxious after the encounter with Cassandra. Gregory was obviously changing his mode of attack.
After returning home with her mother and Charlotte, Elizabeth donned her sweats and athletic shoes to take a run around the block. She had calculated how many times she needed to run the route to make a mile, and she tried to run at least two miles three times per week. It had been a part of her weekly routine since she had graduated from high school. Michael, Gabriel, and Darcy flew just above her.
As she passed the church parking lot, she heard a car horn and followed the sound with her eyes. She spotted Gregory in a shiny black sports car at the McDonald's across the street. He rolled down the window and waved at her with a big smile.
I knew that he was up to something, thought Darcy.
I think that the three of us are quite capable of dealing with Gregory, answered Michael drily.
Especially since he has no guards with him, added Gabriel. He is not here for a battle.
After looking both ways, Elizabeth, followed by Darcy, Michael, and Gabriel, ran across the street to see him. She walked around his car slowly, looking at it from all angles. He certainly knows how to make an entrance, she mused.
Gregory got out of the car, closed the door, and leaned against it, arms folded across his broad chest and one ankle crossed over the other. As she finished her circle, she stopped in front of him and smiled, her eyes never leaving the car.
Her guardians flanked her, staring at the enemy.
"Hi, Gregory. New wheels? I've never seen a car like this. It is truly awesome! What is it?"
"It's a Lamborghini Cachazo Concept. I just got it yesterday."
"I don't know much about cars, but I do know that concept cars are expensive and hard to acquire. How did you manage to get this?" she asked, still admiring the sleek lines and low-slung body.
He stood up. "I told you that I have connections, El. Don't ever underestimate me. There were only a few of these cars made, and they aren't for sale. I saw it, and I wanted it. If you have the money, and you know the right people, you can have anything you want." His voice was seductive and low.
Darcy took a step toward him, and Gabriel put a restraining hand on his arm.
The tone of Gregory's voice shocked her, and she finally looked at him instead of the car. It was as if she were seeing him for the first time. He was wearing a black Ksubi trench coat open over a hooded grey wool sweater bearing an Armani logo. The top of his fitted black T shirt showed under the partially unzipped sweater, and the sweater's hood was flung carelessly over the back of the coat. Black designer jeans and black leather boots finished the outfit. Elizabeth held her breath as she took in Gregory's perfect face, glossy black hair, and honey-golden eyes. He was amazingly sexy and dangerous.
He would look right at home on the cover of GQ, she thought.
Darcy was so jealous that he had to look away. Sometimes, I wish I could not read her mind.
"Well, what do you think?" Gregory asked, commanding her attention with his eyes.
She released the breath she had been holding. "I want to touch it, but I'm afraid I'll get fingerprint smudges on it. It's so beautiful."
"El, you can touch anything you want of mine, anytime you want to." His voice was pure silk, caressing her with its smoothness. "I thought I had made that clear to you in the past."
He has crossed the boundary! Darcy spoke through his clenched jaw. His right hand closed over the hilt of his sword.
He has breached propriety, but he has done nothing to merit drawing your sword. Calm yourself. He is enjoying tormenting you. Would you encourage him to go further just to see your reaction? Gabriel was calm and reasonable.
Gregory took a step toward her. "Would you like to go for a ride?"
Darcy took a step toward him. I will prevent you from coming again if you cannot control yourself, thought Michael.
Darcy stopped, but took a defensive posture.
She was vaguely uncomfortable. Gregory had never been so forward with her before, and it frightened her. She hesitated.
"I promise that I'll behave. I can be a gentleman, too, you know. I just thought that you should be aware of all your options."
She looked toward her house, and then back at him. "I can't be gone long. I have schoolwork to finish, and my parents will expect me to be home for dinner."
That was not a 'no,' thought Darcy.
I am sure that Gregory did not miss that either, added Michael.
Gregory walked to the passenger's side and opened the door. He held out his hand to Elizabeth with a look meant to convey his feelings for her. "Please, El? We won't be gone long. I haven't really seen you since before Christmas. You're always busy with your new friend now." His eyes pleaded with her.
He has been my friend for more than two years now. Have I really been neglecting him?
Gregory has played on her loyal nature perfectly. He knew exactly what to say to make her feel guilty, thought Darcy in irritation.
Darcy spoke into her mind, Do not go with him, Elizabeth.
She hesitated, but Gregory looked at her, imploring her with his eyes.
"Please?" he asked, still gazing at her, using every ounce of his magnetism.
Please, Elizabeth. Please do not get into his car. Darcy was begging her.
She felt so confused. Gregory is my friend, and I know he will not hurt me. Why do I feel that I should not go? Is it because of what Charlotte said? She has never liked him.
She walked to the other side of the car and took Gregory's hand, allowing him to help her into the low-slung car.
Gregory closed her door and walked around to the driver's side, pausing a short moment to smile triumphantly at the three angels.
Darcy glared at him. Michael and Gabriel maintained neutral expressions.
He opened the door and slid into the bucket seat beside her, reaching across her to get her seatbelt. As he pulled it over her, he managed to lightly graze her body with his knuckles, lingering just a moment longer than necessary before he locked the clasp securely. Her eyes widened as he touched her.
That must have been an accident. Surely he would not have done that on purpose, she thought.
There is such a thing as being too innocent. Darcy contemplated having a talk with her later.
Gregory pushed the ignition button, enjoying the raw power of the machine as it jumped to life.
"Where would you like to go?" he asked, turning his head to smile at her.
"It doesn't matter, but remember we can't go very far. I have to get back home soon," she answered. I'm babbling. I wish I had never agreed to go.
We are in agreement, thought Darcy.
"I haven't seen what she can do yet. Let's take the country road out of town and test her limits," Gregory said, revving the engine.
Before she had a chance to answer, he peeled out of the parking lot and headed toward the open highway, breaking every speed limit on the way.
If he wraps the car around a tree, he could kill her, and he'd probably just walk away - or fly away, thought Darcy as he, Michael, and Gabriel flew above the speeding car.
We will not allow that, answered Michael tersely. The three of us can catch the car before it hits anything.
Do not worry so, Darcy. You will go prematurely gray, added Gabriel.
Remember that I bested his father when we contended over the body of Moses, and I will not be beaten by the son, said Michael, referring to an incident recorded in Jude 1:9. The Lord will rebuke him.
Gregory pushed the gas pedal to the floor. He could not resist the smell of Elizabeth's fear. Though he knew it was unwise, he enjoyed it too much to slow down as he glanced at the flashing blue light in the rearview mirror.
When the speedometer hit 200 MPH, she began to whimper. "Gregory, please. I'm afraid. Please slow down."
She is no longer willing. We can interfere. Darcy was adamant.
There is no need yet. Let her see him for what he is. Let her be afraid of him, cautioned Michael.
Michael is right. Gregory himself is doing more to push her away than any of your talks could have accomplished, spoke the voice of reason, Gabriel.
Gregory realized his error immediately upon hearing her voice and began to decelerate. "I'm sorry, El. I just got a little carried away. I really love speed, and I've been trained by a professional racecar driver. You were never in any danger."
She huddled back in her seat, fighting tears. "Please take me home now."
"I will. We'll turn around right now, and I'll take you home. I truly am sorry. Can you forgive me?" he asked. He reached for her hand.
"Keep your hands on the wheel, please. I do forgive you, Gregory, but don't ever expect me to get in a car with you again. You are a maniac." Elizabeth crossed her arms and looked out the window with a frown.
Excellent. Darcy smiled.
Just as we said it would be, Michael reminded him.
Gregory turned into a driveway, backed out into the road, and headed back toward Bethel.
"I just like to drive fast. That doesn't make me a bad person." His tone was wheedling.
No, driving fast does not make you a bad person, but perhaps being the offspring of the Son of Perdition might qualify you for the appellation. You are referred to as the Dark Prince. Darcy's thoughts were edged with sarcasm.
"I'm not saying you're a bad person, but I won't get back in a car with you again if you're going to be driving it." She was firm. "You shouldn't have a sports car. You could kill yourself."
He laughed. "That's not likely."
They rode in silence for a few moments.
"El," he began. "I wanted to tell you something today."
"Oh, so your sole purpose in coming to Bethel wasn't to scare me to death?" She looked at him and arched one eyebrow.
"No, actually I've been very concerned for you since yesterday." Gregory injected just the right amount of sincerity into his voice.
Darcy spoke into her mind. He is the Father of Lies. Do not believe him.
"I can't imagine why," she returned.
"You seem to have become quite close to Fitzwilliam Darcy in a very short time," he said quietly.
"Yes, Fitzwilliam and I are becoming friends. I like him." Elizabeth looked straight ahead.
"Maybe it isn't wise to trust anyone on such a short acquaintance," said Gregory.
"Fitzwilliam has been a perfect gentleman, and he hasn't tried to kill me yet."
"I haven't tried to kill you either. You're being a little melodramatic, don't you think? At any rate, I've known him for many years, and you've known him a few weeks." Gregory let the statement hang in the air.
"What do you have to accuse him of? I would dearly like to know," Elizabeth said, a little angrily.
"What do you really know of him? Has he talked about his family? Have you met any of his friends?"
Michael, this is getting out of hand. Darcy looked the other two angels.
Patience, Darcy, cautioned Michael.
"Well, no, but we will talk about those things, I'm sure." Her voice took on a slight hesitation.
"I would love to be a fly on the wall when you do."
By that time, Gregory was pulling into Elizabeth's driveway. She did not think to ask him how he knew where she lived when he had never been there before.
As she opened the door to get out of the car, he leaned over and put his hand on her arm. The trio of powerful angels stood around the open door.
He is touching her again! Darcy scowled.
"El, I really care for you, and I would hate to see you hurt in any way. You don't know what he is."
He has planted doubt in her mind. It will grow from that insidious seed. Darcy spat the words.
It is what he does best, answered Gabriel calmly.
Elizabeth looked back at Gregory and could see the concern in his eyes. It moved her heart.
"Remember that I'll always be here for you if you ever need me," he said in a husky voice.
"Thank you, Gregory. I won't forget it." She smiled at him. Then she got out of the car and walked to the door. As he backed out of the driveway, he glanced at her. She was standing there with her hand on the knob, looking at him with a faraway expression. She raised her hand to wave goodbye at him, and then opened the door and went inside. Her guardians walked through the closed door, following closely behind her.
Gregory turned the stereo sound system up until the car vibrated and sped away, an evil smile disfiguring his perfect face.To Be Continued . . .
As Robin H. has indicated her intent to immediately publish “SoulFire” upon its completion at Derbyshire Writers’ Guild, and to withdraw her story from the Fantasia Gallery (archives) at that time, the moderators have made the decision to no longer update this story in the archives. This does not mean that Robin H. will no longer be sharing her story with the community; on the contrary, she continues to post regular updates to “SoulFire” on our Message Board, and we invite you to follow its progress there.
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