Posted on 2013-07-06
"I don't think I've ever been in this spot before," Elizabeth said to Charlotte as they mounted a stretch of stone steps which lead to a terraced garden on Pemberley's grounds.
"This estate is quite extensive. I'm not even sure if Fitz has seen this part of the gardens."
Elizabeth chuckled. "It's beautiful. I could spend days out here and never paint the same thing twice."
At the top of the steps Charlotte paused, gazing at a well groomed expanse of lawn surrounded by colorful flowerbeds and meticulously manicured shrubs. "I think this is the perfect place." She motioned across the greensward. "There's enough room for tables without overcrowding."
Nodding, Elizabeth agreed. "I think you're right. I love it." The two women examined the area, envisioning how it might look decorated for Sir Percy's surprise party. "What if we strung lights overhead here?" Elizabeth pointed upward. "And set the tables up beneath them?"
"Brilliant, that!" Charlotte exclaimed. "But where are we to find Christmas lights in July?"
"There must be someone around who rents lights and things for weddings and parties."
"Let's look at the telephone directory. Fitz should have one inside somewhere."
The ladies headed to the manor house in search of a phonebook. Guessing that the study would be the most likely place to find it, Charlotte charged her way straight into the room. Fitzwilliam, who was at his desk, was startled by the intrusion. "Directory?" Charlotte asked without explanation.
"What?" Baffled, William looked to Elizabeth for clarification.
"We're looking for a phonebook, an information directory," Elizabeth replied with a smile.
Reaching into a desk drawer, William handed Charlotte the directory. "You need only ask."
"I did." Charlotte took the book and started flipping pages to find party rentals.
"I didn't realize you were at home this morning," Elizabeth said to William.
"Yes, I'm working from home today." He rounded his desk, giving Elizabeth a kiss on the cheek when he reached her side. "How are the party plans?"
"They're coming along very well. We've decided where to set up tables and Charlotte's looking for lights now."
"What sort of lights?"
"Strings of lights, you know, like Christmas lights."
"Where are you going to hang them?"
"Instead of a canopy we want to string white lights above the tables, kind of like a starry night."
William grinned. "But aren't we going to be out in the garden under a star-filled sky anyways?"
Elizabeth furrowed her brow, making a face at William. "Of course, you would say something like that. You have no imagination."
"Is that right?" He chuckled, taking her in his arms and kissing her lips which surprised Elizabeth since William was usually more guarded with his affections when they were in company.
"Um hmm." She nodded.
"I think I'm going to disagree." He raised a brow as an impish grin crept across his face.
"My, my, but you are in an extraordinary mood today, and it's a good thing I am too or else I would argue that point with you."
"Is it that you're in an extraordinary mood or is it because you know you couldn't win the argument?"
"Are you trying to pick a fight with me, Mr. Darcy?"
Dimples appeared on his cheeks as his smile deepened.
"I do believe you are," Elizabeth said while taking hold of his hands and pulling out of his embrace. "But I won't let you get the best of me, even though you are wearing that cute dimpled grin of yours."
The dimples grew deeper as William gazed into Elizabeth's eyes. "But I think I'd like..."
"I found a place that lets that sort of lighting," Charlotte said as she ended her call, not paying attention to what had been transpiring between Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam. "They'll string them up for us too."
"Great." Elizabeth turned toward her friend. "Shall we make arrangements for it?"
"It's already taken care of, but now we need to see the caterer." Charlotte took hold of Elizabeth's arm, while handing Fitz the phonebook. "Come along, there's work to do."
"Got to go now, sweetheart," Elizabeth said to William, waving as Charlotte pulled her out the door. "I'll see you later."
"Sweetheart?" he thought with a smile as he watched the ladies disappear down the hall.
"Elizabeth, I've missed you," Mary said as she gave Elizabeth a quick hug. "Are you feeling better?"
"I am." Elizabeth nodded. "Much better, thanks."
"I'm so glad."
"I've missed our little chats. You need to catch me up with your life. How have you been?"
"Well," Mary smiled, hardly able to contain her excitement. "I do have some news."
"Don't keep me in suspense." Elizabeth gestured for Mary to hurry. "What news?"
"I recently applied for a position at Chesterfield Academy."
"I met with them Monday."
"So, have you heard back from them? When are they making a decision?"
Mary's smile stretched across her face. "They rang this morning to offer the job."
"Oh, Mary, that's fantastic." Elizabeth reached across the table to squeeze her friend's hand. "I am so excited for you."
"It is wonderful. I feel like my life is falling into place."
"This means you've decided to stay in Lambton."
"Good for you, I'm glad."
Mary nodded and they sat momentarily silent before she asked Elizabeth how Fitzwilliam was doing.
"Has anything been settled with Hugh?"
"I hope it doesn't drag on too terribly long." Mary grimaced. "I know how Fitz hates having loose ends."
"You still care about Fitzwilliam."
"I do care a great deal about him...in fact, I have thought about trying to bridge the chasm between us."
"Really? That's wonderful."
"I'm just not sure how to approach him, but I...I was thinking of asking if maybe you would say something to him. Maybe test the waters, see if he is willing to even speak to me."
"If you'd like me to, I will."
"I'm nervous, Elizabeth. I don't know what to say, or how to approach him. It's been so long and I was pretty horrible to him when we last spoke."
Elizabeth placed a reassuring hand on Mary's. "I'll talk to him. Don't worry, I'm sure things will turn out all right."
"Thank you. That would mean a lot to me."
Over the next half hour Elizabeth and Mary enjoyed their lunch while continuing their conversation, and when they left the restaurant talking and laughing together they were both stunned to see George Wickham leaning against Mary's parked car.
"Mary," Wickham said to his ex-wife. "Where have you been? I've left a dozen messages and not a word from you."
"George, what are you doing here?" Mary asked in a firm voice, trying not to let him rattle her.
"Waiting for you. Like I said I've been ringing and you won't answer."
"I've been busy, and have nothing to say to you."
He moved to grab her arm, but she stepped back. "Leave me alone, George. And get off my car."
Wickham's eyes narrowed as he once again tried to take hold of Mary.
"She said leave her alone." Elizabeth stepped up to Wickham. "Get off her car and leave!"
"Stay out of this!" he snapped at Elizabeth. "This is none of your concern."
"When you accost my friend you make this my concern."
"Shut up! I'm talking to my wife here!"
"She doesn't want to talk to you, in fact, she wants nothing to do with you, but you're too thick to get that. Leave her alone and don't bother her again!" Elizabeth moved between Mary and her ex-husband, allowing Mary access to her car. Elizabeth's face was flush with anger as she stood glaring at Wickham. Wickham's jaw tightened as he drew up to his full height, trying to intimidate Elizabeth. Undaunted by his stature and cold, hard stare Elizabeth held her ground while Mary got into her car and started the engine.
"Elizabeth!" Mary shouted. "Get in the car!"
Elizabeth took a step back before turning to open the car door, but before taking a seat she shook a finger at Wickham. "And she's not your wife!"
Mary drove away quickly, leaving Wickham in the street. Her hands gripped the steering wheel tightly and her face was pale. Elizabeth looked at her with concern. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"I think we're far enough away, maybe you should pull over."
Nodding her head, Mary slowed down and parked the car on a quiet lane. She drew in a deep breath then rested her head on the steering wheel where her hands were still clenched. Trying to comfort her friend, Elizabeth patted Mary's shoulder, waiting for her to gain her composure. "That was pretty awful," Elizabeth said when Mary lifted her head.
"And unexpected." Mary took another deep breath. "I didn't know George was back in Lambton. I thought he was gone for good."
"But he always seems to turn up."
"I was hoping to never see him again." Mary released her grip of the steering wheel. "What is he doing here? What could he want?"
Elizabeth didn't answer, although she had plenty of ideas of what George Wickham might want in Lambton. "Don't let it bother you, Mary. He's really not worth your time."
"I know...I know. He's definitely not worth it, but he's always been able to get under my skin. That's why I wish he would just go away forever."
"Maybe he will."
"I can only hope."
Looking at Mary, Elizabeth wondered what she might do to help lift her spirits. "You know what we need?"
Mary shook her head.
"We need to spend the afternoon with Charlotte. If she can't help us feel better she knows a great little candy shop that will."
This caused Mary to smile. She hadn't seen Charlotte lately and an afternoon spent with friends sounded much
better than being alone. "That's a fantastic idea."
Charlotte was surprised when Elizabeth and Mary turned up on her doorstep and she loved the idea of paying a visit to her favorite candy maker. The three ladies enjoyed the ride to Kettersham and the conversation it allowed. When Mary related what had happened with her ex-husband Charlotte expressed wonder. "What does he mean showing up like that?"
"I don't know," Mary replied. "I suppose I will just have to live with him popping in and out of my life."
"And making you miserable. I don't think so," Elizabeth chimed in.
"It's the price I have to pay for marrying him."
"No, you don't have to continue to put up with him. You divorced him, Mary, he needs to get a grip on that and leave you alone."
"She's right," Charlotte agreed. "He needs to let you be."
Mary nodded, but made no response.
"But we didn't drive all the way out here to talk about him. We came for chocolate," Charlotte reminded her friends as she parked the car. "Let's enjoy our afternoon together."
After a visit to the candy shop Elizabeth and her companions looked into a few other stores, but couldn't stay long since Mary had plans for the evening and needed to return home. When Mary drove away Charlotte invited Elizabeth in for a cup of tea. "We need to do something to help Mary," Charlotte said as she stirred her tea.
"I think the best thing we can do is to be her friend. She needs a strong support group. People who care about her. People she can trust."
"You're probably right. When she married Wickham most of her friends drifted away."
"Hmmm." Elizabeth sipped her tea. "You know what we should do? We should invite her to Percy's birthday party."
"What about Fitz?"
"She asked me if I would speak to him for her. What better way to get them together?"
"Do you think so?"
"Yes, it's time those two worked this out."
"But at Percy's party?"
"It might be better for them to meet at a public gathering, less awkward than a private meeting."
The look on Charlotte's face expressed her doubt about Elizabeth's plan. "I think it all might go horribly wrong. Fitz doesn't like being surprised."
"I'm not suggesting that we just spring this on him by having Mary show up on his doorstep. I'll talk to him before I say anything to Mary." Elizabeth stood up. "In fact, I'll go speak to Fitzwilliam now."
Good luck," Charlotte said. "Let me know the outcome."
Elizabeth was led into Pemberley's drawing room and could hear William's footfall as he quickly approached. "Elizabeth?" William wore a look of surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd stop by."
"I wasn't expecting you."
"Is this a bad time? I can come back later."
"No, no, not at all." William took hold of her hand to prevent her leaving. "I'm surprised to see you here."
"If you're sure. I almost feel as though you don't want to see me."
"Don't be absurd, of course I want to see you." He hugged her then gestured for her to have a seat on the sofa. "It's just that you've never come to Pemberley without an invitation before." He sat beside her. "But I am very pleased to see you here."
"I would hate to think you would be displeased to see me." She smiled while relaxing into the soft cushion.
"You look tired."
"I am a little bit." She sighed softly. "It's been a busy sort of day."
"Busy with the party?"
"Yeah." She nodded.
"Do you need help?"
"No, everything is taken care of. Charlotte and I have made arrangements with the caterer and the lights and tables will be set up tomorrow at noon."
"Anne rang today. She and Geoffrey will be here sometime around four."
"Yes, and Julianne is due at six."
"What time will the guests arrive?"
"And I'm supposed to fetch Percy and bring him at half past seven?"
"Yes, that should give us enough time to make sure everything's ready."
"How many people are going to be here?"
"I'm not exactly sure. I know Anne has contacted a lot of Percy's old schoolmates. Did you know that Charlotte's brother is coming?"
"James? I had no idea. I haven't seen Jamie in years."
"There's someone else I'd still like to invite, but I wanted to talk to you first."
"Who might that be?"
"Promise you won't get angry."
William furrowed his brow.
Elizabeth leaned forward, gently placing her hand on William's arm. "Just listen before you react."
Nodding, he waited silently, trying to prepare himself for what she might say.
"I would like to have Mary King come to the party."
A scowl formed on his face. "Elizabeth, why would you...?"
"Now Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth said in a stern voice. "There's no reason to not invite Mary. You don't even need to talk to her if you don't want to, but she is an old friend of Percy's and it is his birthday. Are you going to let your old grudge keep her from his party?"
"I don't hold a grudge."
"It certainly seems that way to me."
He looked at her thoughtfully, but said nothing.
"I've been speaking to Mary and she's saddened that the two of you have that rift between you." Elizabeth scrutinized William, trying to guess what he might be thinking or feeling. "And to tell you the truth, I don't understand how two sensible adults can't get over something that happened more than a decade ago."
William leaned back into the sofa, but still said nothing.
Elizabeth, too, sat silent, letting him think on what she had said. After a full minute passed she stood to leave. "If you really don't want her here, I won't invite her to the party."
Slowly, he rose from his seat. "No, it's fine."
"Are you sure?"
She smiled at him, hoping that he wasn't just giving her what she wanted. But even if he is some good may come of it. "All right, I'll see you tomorrow then." Standing on her tiptoes, she gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Bye, now."
He smiled, watching her whisk out of the room.
On the following evening the invited guests were gathered in Pemberley's garden awaiting the arrival of the guest of honor. Fitzwilliam had texted Anne letting her know that he and Percy would be there soon. Julianne started fretting the moment she heard the news, wringing her hands as she paced back and forth.
"What's the matter with you?" Charlotte asked her.
"I don't want to see him."
Julianne nodded, continuing to wring her hands nervously.
"What's going on?" Elizabeth asked. "Why don't you want to see Percy? I would think that you would be excited."
"I'm afraid he's cross with me."
"Why would he be cross?" Charlotte glanced at Elizabeth, a confused expression washing over her face. Elizabeth shrugged in response, equally perplexed at Julianne's anxiety.
"Because I lied to him. I told him I had to work late to finish some things before I could leave and didn't think I would be able to celebrate with him tonight."
"So, what woman hasn't lied to a man?" Charlotte chuckled. "You know. Not tonight, dear, I have a headache."
"I'm serious, Charlotte. Percy's so wound up over this I'm afraid what he might say when he sees me here tonight."
"Oh, don't even worry about that." Elizabeth gently patted her shoulder. "He will be so happy when he sees you he won't even think about what you told him this morning."
"Do you think so?"
"Of course," Elizabeth reassured her. "He won't hold it against you."
"Quiet everybody," Anne called out in a low voice. "They're here."
The buzz of whispering voices died out and the garden became silent. The crowd huddled at the edge of the lawn watching in the stillness for the first sign of Sir Percy.
"I think they're coming up the path," someone in the group whispered.
"Shhh." Several people responded.
A moment later the sound of gravel crunching underfoot could be heard, and Sir Percy's voice carried over the dense hedgerow. "...but there doesn't seem to be much point now, Fitz. If she's..."
"Shut it, Percy!" Fitz said in a rather harsh tone. "I didn't bring you out here to listen to your mewling."
"Sorry?" Sir Percy turned to face his friend. "Did you just tell me...?"
"Yes, I did." Fitzwilliam nudged him to continue. "Come along."
"I don't think I'm drunk enough to take that from you tonight, mate."
"You're drunk enough."
"Definitely." Fitzwilliam gestured toward the pathway. "Come on, now. Mind the steps."
At the top of the steps Fitzwilliam led Sir Percy onto the greensward where his friends and family were lying in wait. "Surprise!" the entire group cried out at the sight of them, causing Sir Percy to nearly fall over. "What the devil?" he exclaimed, then turned to Fitzwilliam. "You knew about this?"
"That's rather obvious, don't you think?" Fitzwilliam guided Sir Percy into the horde of well-wishers. "There you go." The crowd enveloped Sir Percy to greet him. Fitzwilliam quickly abandoned him, pushing his way through the throng to find Elizabeth. He found her sitting alone at a table underneath the strung lights. "What are you doing sitting here by yourself?"
"Waiting for you." Elizabeth winked at William. "It took you long enough to find me."
"But I'm here now." He sat down beside her.
"Yes, you are." She shifted to face him, a glint of mischief flashed in her eye.
William arched a brow. "Are you just going to sit there flirting with me or are you going to kiss me?"
"In this crowded place?"
Leaning forward, William ran his fingers into Elizabeth's hair and gently pulled her towards him. He stared into her eyes for a moment before placing a tender, yet passionate kiss on her lips. Elizabeth held her breath as her lips parted, meeting William's with equal ardor. Only a few seconds time lapsed, but it might as well have been minutes for the desire it evoked within each of them. They held each other's gaze as they pulled back, silently resuming their former positions for what seemed like several minutes.
"Have I ever told you what a great kisser you are?" Elizabeth finally said.
Caught off guard, William chuckled audibly. "No, I don't seem to remember having had that conversation."
"Well, you are. A great kisser, that is."
"Nobody's ever mentioned it before." The blush on his cheeks heightened.
Elizabeth enjoyed watching William's discomfort, but wasn't quite ready to let the moment pass. "You know what they say about a man who can kiss like that?"
"I'm not at all sure what you mean."
"Not sure what she means about what?" Geoffrey asked as he took the seat next to Fitzwilliam.
Both Elizabeth and William looked at Geoffrey, not sure whether they welcomed his intrusion or resented it. William struggled to respond to the question. "Oh...Elizabeth was just telling me about...about the finer points of trying to decipher..."
Laughing aloud, Elizabeth leaned toward Geoffrey, placing her forearms on the table in front of her. "What he's trying to say, Geoffrey, is that he has no idea how to read a woman or what she is saying."
"Join the club, mate." Geoffrey stretched back in his chair, making himself comfortable. "But I thought you had already realized that. I mean, after two divorces you should have realized it."
Deciding that he actually resented Geoffrey's intrusion, William glowered at him. "And you're an expert?"
"Lord, no. I just nod my head and agree to whatever it is Anne is saying."
"I'm going to get a drink," William announced, then rose to leave.
"What's up with Fitz? He seems a bit out of sorts." Geoffrey asked Elizabeth while watching his old friend walk away.
"I have no idea." Elizabeth shook her head. "He seems fine to me."
"Hmmm, I don't know."
"So, does Anne know that you pretty much ignore everything she says to you?" Elizabeth asked pointedly after deciding that she, too, resented Geoffrey's intrusion.
Unfazed, Geoffrey nodded his head. "Yeah, it's a mutual understanding."
"You know, I don't know what's worse. The fact that you ignore your wife or the fact that it doesn't bother you to admit that you ignore her."
"It is what it is, and after twenty-one years neither of us sees the need to change things."
"Neither of you? Have you asked Anne how she feels about this?" Elizabeth waved her hand. "Never mind. Don't answer that, I already know the answer."
"What's wrong with leaving things the way they are?"
Elizabeth shook her head, thinking how much she had always liked Geoffrey and didn't want this conversation to be the one she always remembered him by. "Let me ask you this. Are you happy?"
He looked at her thoughtfully. "No, not really."
"Okay. Now, tell me. Do you want to be happy?"
"Do you think Anne is happy, especially if she knows that her husband ignores her on purpose?"
"I don't know what Anne is feeling."
"Okay, I'll answer that for you. She's not happy, Geoffrey. And I'll answer the next question for you. Yes, she would like to be happy."
Geoffrey made no response, but waited for Elizabeth to continue.
"I'm not even going to ask if you love her, but I'll assume that you do since you were committed enough to marry her twenty years ago." Elizabeth stared at him levelly. "You need to think about Anne's feelings and listen to what she is saying. Marriage is a partnership and each partner needs to be concerned with the others well-being, even more concerned than they are about their own."
Fitzwilliam returned with a drink. When he took his seat he pulled his chair closer to Elizabeth's and draped his arm across the back of her chair, which she and Geoffrey both noticed. What neither of them noticed was that William had been standing back listening to Elizabeth school Geoffrey, and the dimpled grin that stretched across his face when he saw Geoffrey sheepishly listening to her advice. "I think Anne was looking for you, Geoff." William motioned in the direction of the buffet table. "Go on. I'll hold your chair."
"All right." He got up to leave. "I'll see you later."
William watched Geoffrey search for his wife until he lost him in the crowd. "Liz?"
"Hmmm?" She turned her attention to William for she, too, had been watching Geoffrey.
"Have I ever told you what a great kisser you are?"
She laughed, and smiled a smile that stretched across her face and brightened her eyes. "Yes, as a matter of fact you have, but not with words."
He placed his hand on her cheek and kissed her tenderly. "You are an amazing woman."
"Why, thank you, Mr. Darcy. I appreciate the compliment and will also say that I think you are an incredible man."
"And a great kisser."
"What are you two doing hiding over here?" Charlotte asked as she approached Elizabeth and William. "Come on, join the party."
"All right." Elizabeth stood up and held her hand out for William. "We probably should because I can see that I'm only going to get into trouble if I hang out with you."
He took her offered hand, but didn't move.
"Are you going to get up?"
"Eventually." He smiled his dimpled smile.
"Come on." She eased her hand from his grip. "I'm going to have fun tonight. With or without you."
"I'm taking her with me, Fitz," Charlotte said. "You're going to have to fend for yourself."
"Fine." He waved them off. "Have fun. I'll see you later."
"Jamie!" Charlotte called out as she and Elizabeth crossed the lawn, approaching the buffet table.
"Lottie!" A fair haired man in his mid-forties turned to greet Charlotte with a hug.
"I've been looking for you. When did you arrive?"
"Just a short while ago. I already spoke with Collins. He said you were here somewhere."
"Yes, indeed, I am." Charlotte turned to Elizabeth. "Elizabeth, I'd like you to meet my brother, James Townsend. Jamie, this is Elizabeth Bennet, a very dear friend of mine who has recently moved here from America."
"Oh, yes. I remember Lottie mentioning you. Elizabeth, it's nice to finally meet you."
"Likewise." Elizabeth smiled, noticing the similarities between Charlotte and her brother. "Lottie has told me so much about you I feel as though I already know you."
Charlotte elbowed her friend. "Enough of that. I haven't gone by Lottie for several decades."
"You know very well that I love teasing you whenever possible, but I don't want to upset you so I'll stop." Elizabeth turned to Charlotte's brother who was chuckling at the interaction between Elizabeth and his sister. "So, James, how was your trip into Lambton?"
"The drive was excruciating - far too long. And please, call me Jamie."
"Can I get you a drink?" He raised his glass.
Elizabeth shook her head. "No, thank you, I'm fine."
"How about you, Charlotte? Can I get you something to drink?"
"Yes, if you would please."
"I'll be right back."
"I can't believe how much he looks like you," Elizabeth said when Jamie had walked away.
"We do have the same parents, you know," Charlotte replied.
"I know, but you two are almost mirror images."
"We used to hear that when we were younger, but it's been years since I have."
"Well, it's not a bad thing; he's a pleasant looking man."
"I suppose, but who thinks of their little brother like that?"
"I always wished that I'd had a brother." Elizabeth chuckled. "Jane said the only advantage to having a brother would be the prospect of meeting his friends."
Charlotte laughed aloud. "The only friend Jamie ever brought home was Percy."
"I can't even imagine what Percy was like as a boy."
"Practically the same as he is now - always talking, always schmoozing."
"An ideal politician."
Both ladies were laughing when Jamie returned with drinks in each hand. He handed a wine glass to his sister. "What's so funny?"
"Charlotte was just telling me about you and Percy when you were boys."
"I hope it was nothing embarrassing about me," Jamie said, glancing at his sister.
"No, she was telling about Percy trying to hypnotize your family's cat." Elizabeth patted Jamie's arm. "She hasn't gotten to stories about you yet."
"I hope she never does." He grimaced. "That could be disastrous for me. Sisters can be so very cruel."
"I'm sure Charlotte will be kind when telling your stories."
Jamie looked at Elizabeth warily. "I'm not as confident about that as you are."
"You think I'm joking, but..."
"Mary!" Charlotte exclaimed upon seeing Mary King.
"Hello, Charlotte, Elizabeth..." Mary looked at Charlotte's brother. "Jamie?"
"Yes," Jamie replied, recognizing the newcomer. "Can I believe my eyes? Is this Mary King?"
"It is...I am," Mary said excitedly. "I can't remember the last time I saw you...I think it might have been at your wedding. How long has it been?"
"If that was the last time it's been at least fifteen years then."
"So, how are you? Tell me what's been happening with you."
"I'm well, working in London, living in Surrey. I have two children, a girl and a boy, but only see them every second weekend. They live with their mother since we divorced last year. But how are you?"
"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to bring up unpleasant subjects."
"Don't worry, it's fine." Jamie placed his hand on Mary's shoulder. "Tell me what's been going on with you."
After Mary had informed Jamie of all that had been happening in her life, he asked Mary if she wanted to dance. "I'd really like that," Mary said, then turned to her two friends. "That is, if you don't mind."
"Not at all." Charlotte motioned for them to join the group of dancers. "We'll see you later."
"Am I imagining this, but did both of them seem happy to hear that the other was divorced?" Elizabeth asked while watching Jamie and Mary dancing.
"I don't know...I don't think there was ever anything between them." Charlotte eyed her brother, trying to see if Elizabeth's idea was plausible.
"Maybe their timing was off...maybe something's clicked for them and they'll pair up."
"I'm not sure if he's anxious to get involved yet, at least anything serious."
"He did seem as though he was...well, on the make."
Chortling, Charlotte grabbed hold of Elizabeth's arm. "On the make?"
"Yeah, he was looking to...connect with someone...a woman."
"I'm sure he is."
Elizabeth glanced at the couple again. "They seem to like each other."
Charlotte nodded. "They do look well together."
"Are you two playing matchmaker?" William's voice sounded from behind them as his arm wound around Elizabeth's waist.
"You startled me," Elizabeth held her hand up to her heart. "Why are you sneaking up like that?"
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to give you a fright." William kissed her cheek. "I thought you knew I was there. I was speaking with Robert Stansbury just a few feet from you."
"I had no idea you were there."
"You did seem rather engrossed in your matchmaking scheme." William looked out across the garden. "Who is the
Charlotte laughed. "I think you're confusing me with Anne."
Chuckling, William noticed the couples dancing. "Oh, I see Jamie's here. I hadn't noticed him earlier."
"He arrived late. Be sure to say hello to him."
"I will." William's gaze remained on the dancer's until he turned to Elizabeth. "Dance with me?"
"I would love to." Elizabeth smiled as she took hold of his outstretched hand.
"Excuse us, Charlotte." William said, then led Elizabeth off to dance.
"Do you think we'll have a moment alone together tonight?" William whispered in Elizabeth's ear as they swayed to the music.
"I don't know. It may be difficult since you are the host."
"True." He kissed her earlobe. "I suppose after everybody leaves we can have some privacy."
"But aren't Anne and Geoffrey staying here with you?"
William groaned, then muttered inaudibly.
"Don't worry about that. Let's enjoy now." Elizabeth pressed closer to him. "The music is fine. We're dancing under a beautiful starry sky."
"You're right." He tightened his grip of Elizabeth. "I couldn't ask for more than this."
Later in the evening when the guests had started thinning out Elizabeth was talking with Anne and an amazingly attentive Geoffrey when Mary approached to say goodbye.
"Thanks so much for inviting me," Mary whispered in Elizabeth's ear as she embraced her.
"You are very welcome." She hugged Mary tighter. "Take care. I'll see you for lunch next week."
"I wouldn't miss it for anything." She waved to the others. "Thanks for a lovely evening."
"She seems happy," Anne remarked after Mary had left. "I suppose divorce agrees with her."
"It's certainly better than her other alternative," Elizabeth said.
Geoffrey nodded. "Marriage to Wickham."
"I'd definitely take divorce," Anne said looking at her husband.
Elizabeth noticed the look that passed between the couple, but wasn't sure what it meant. "I don't know about you two, but I'm exhausted. I'm going to sit down." She pointed towards the tables. "Would you care to join me?"
"Of course. Let's have a sit," Geoffrey said, then led the ladies to a table under the canopy of lights.
The hour was growing late and many of the guests had left the party and as the numbers dwindled a small group joined Elizabeth and the Rutherfords.
"Where is Fitz?" Charlotte asked.
"I haven't seen him for at least a half an hour," Geoffrey remarked.
"No, it has to be longer than that." Elizabeth shook her head.
"Maybe he's already gone to bed," Anne said. "I wouldn't blame him."
"Oh, well, I'm sure he'll turn up." Charlotte looked across the table at Julianne. "And where's Percy?"
"He's probably sick in the shrubbery." Geoffrey laughed.
Julianne shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not sure where he might be. He's been catching up with a lot of old friends
"Well, I'm going to see if I can find Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth said as she stood to leave the group.
"Would you like me to go with you?" Julianne offered. "It's dark out there."
"No, that's okay. I'll be fine."
"If you're sure."
"Yeah, thanks." Elizabeth walked away, happy to be alone. It felt like she had been in constant company the past few days. I just need a little bit of solitude. She shivered in the cool night air. Folding her arms, she tried to warm up as she headed towards the house. The night was clear, but she couldn't see the moon. The stars in the sky looked like tiny points of light against the dark indigo expanse. She stopped to gaze into the heavens, and after several minutes she could hear voices in the hedgerow. She cocked her head, trying to figure out who it was. "You've had a bit too much tonight, my friend." She recognized William's voice. "Itsch my birthday." She chuckled upon hearing Sir Percy's inebriated attempt at conversation. "We shh...oh..." She heard a thud, then William's laughter. Elizabeth followed the sounds across the lawn.
"William?" she called out softly.
"Liz? Is that you?"
"Yes, where are you? Keep talking so I can find you."
"Mind your step. Percy's on the ground here."
She laughed. "So this is where you've been."
He wrapped his arm around her waist. "What are you doing out here?"
"I came looking for you."
Bending low, he kissed her, missing the mark. "Let's try that again." Caressing her cheek with his thumb he was able to find her lips with his and give her a proper kiss. "Much better."
"You do have a reputation to uphold, you know."
"I know." He kissed her again.
"I'll make sure it doesn't get tarnished."
"Ohhh..." Sir Percy groaned.
"Should you help him up?" Elizabeth asked.
"No, he'll be fine." William turned his attention back to Elizabeth's lips.
Several minutes later Sir Percy was again showing signs of life. "Fitsch? Fitsch?" he babbled from the shrubbery. "Where am I?"
"You should probably help him," Elizabeth suggested.
He reluctantly let go of Elizabeth and turned to help his friend. "All right, up you come." He lifted Sir Percy off the ground, placing his arm around his waist as Percy instinctively put his across Fitzwilliam's shoulder. "Can you walk?"
"I think so. Don't let go."
"Here, let me help." Elizabeth stood on the opposite side of Sir Percy.
"When did you get here?" Percy asked.
"I was here when you fell into the bushes."
"Come on, let's get you to the house," Fitzwilliam suggested.
William and Elizabeth helped Sir Percy to the kitchen and sat him down at the table. Elizabeth sat next to him while he held his head in his hands. William pulled out a blender and started mixing a cure for his friend.
"Here, drink this." He held a glass out for Percy.
Percy took the glass and drank down the frothy liquid.
"You'll start feeling better in a few ticks. This works every time."
Elizabeth looked up at William. "Do you find the need to use this remedy often?"
"University days." He raked his hand through his hair. "And post divorce."
"Divorces," Sir Percy corrected him.
"Feeling better already?"
"Told you. Works every time." William took a seat across from Percy. "Tell me, my friend, how did you end up in this state?"
Sir Percy looked up. "When Julianne rang to tell me that she wasn't going to make it I just..."
"I know that much, but you weren't very drunk when you arrived here tonight."
"I know. It's just that it's my birthday and all my old mates raised a glass to the day and many returns."
Chuckling, William shook his head. "So you stopped to have a drink with every one of them and ended up in the shrubbery."
"That sounds about right."
"I'd better get you another one of these." William took Percy's glass to refill it.
"You found them," Anne exclaimed when Elizabeth showed up in the garden with William and Sir Percy.
"Where have you been?" Charlotte asked.
"We were saying goodnight to the last of the guests." Sir Percy gestured toward the house.
William pulled a chair out for Elizabeth then took the seat next to her. Sir Percy found his place beside Julianne. Geoffrey, Anne and Charlotte sat around the table as well, while Charlotte's brother Jamie straddled a nearby chair.
"I think the party turned out well," Anne said in a congratulatory tone. "Everything was perfect."
"It was a marvelous party. Thank you for making this a birthday to remember." Sir Percy took hold of Julianne's hand.
"Did you really have no idea what we were planning?" Anne asked.
"I didn't have a clue. You lot did a fantastic job hiding it from me. Especially you." He turned to Julianne. "I really thought you were brushing me off on my birthday."
"I'm so sorry. I felt so bad lying to you, but I really had no choice." Julianne looked as though she was about to cry.
"Don't worry, love." Sir Percy kissed her hand. "I know."
Smiling, Elizabeth inclined her head. "And you fretted for no reason."
Julianne blushed with everybody's attention drawn to her. "Yes, I should have known that my Percy wouldn't be angry."
"No, not angry," Sir Percy said. "Heartbroken maybe."
The smile fell from Julianne's face. "I didn't mean to break your heart."
"Joshing, love, I'm only joshing." Sir Percy wrapped Julianne in his arms and whispered in her ear.
Becoming uncomfortable with this public display of affection, Anne redirected the conversation. "You know, I've been thinking how lovely it would be to have all of you spend a weekend with us in London."
"That would be nice," Charlotte said. "There's so much we could do."
"Exactly. We could go to the theatre."
"Yes, to the West End. We could see that new musical everyone's talking about."
"When would this be?" Fitzwilliam asked.
"Oh, I don't know," Anne replied. "What do you think, Geoffrey?"
"We could get together next month some time. I'll check my schedule." Geoffrey pulled out his mobile. "What about the second weekend of August?"
Sir Percy shrugged his shoulders. "That sounds fine with me." Turning to Julianne, he asked if she had any plans that weekend.
"No, I don't think so," Julianne said. "I would love to go."
Charlotte turned to her brother. "What about you, Jamie? Can you break away to join us?"
"Quite likely," he replied. "I'll let you know."
"Do say you'll join us," Anne entreated. "The more the merrier."
"You're awfully quiet, Elizabeth. Do you not like the idea of a weekend in London?" Charlotte asked.
Elizabeth had remained silent, thinking about the prospect of an entire weekend spent in close quarters with this group. "I think it's a charming plan. I love the idea of going to the theatre."
"That's only two weeks away," Julianne exclaimed. "It would be impossible to get tickets this late. I hear they are sold out six months in advance."
"Well then, we'll find another production," Anne said.
"Preferably not a musical," Geoffrey added. "Much better a play."
"What's wrong with musicals, Geoffrey?" Elizabeth asked.
"Nothing, I just prefer a good play over all the cavorting."
Elizabeth laughed. "I can see your point, but I still think it would be fun to see the musical."
"Well, you heard the girl. It would be nigh impossible to get tickets at this late date."
"We should at least try," Sir Percy said. "And then we can discuss other options."
Fitzwilliam stretched out, draping his arm across the back of Elizabeth's chair. "What else would you plan for the weekend, Anne?"
"I don't know. I suppose that would depend on when everyone arrived and how long they would stay."
"Ooh, we should go to Piccadilly," Charlotte suggested. "Or Covent Garden."
"Absolutely not," Geoffrey said unequivocally.
Fitzwilliam chuckled. "What's the matter, Geoff? Don't like shopping either?"
"I avoid it, religiously."
"Well, don't worry old man. I'm sure we can plan something dull that will meet your liking." Sir Percy said with a sardonic tone.
Posted on 2013-07-12
The same group was gathered at Pemberley again the following evening with the exception of Charlotte's brother, who had already travelled back home. Anne and Geoffrey had asked everyone to return in order to make a few plans for their weekend in town.
"Any luck with tickets?" Anne asked her brother-in-law.
Sir Percy shook his head. "No, we'll have to decide on another production."
"That's what I was afraid of," Julianne said, "so I looked on the internet and found a few that might be enjoyable." She turned to Geoffrey. "And they're all musicals."
Geoffrey threw his hands into the air, but made no remark.
Elizabeth nudged him with her elbow. "Oh, come on, it'll be fun."
"Let's see what you've found," Charlotte said to Julianne. "With this group it'll probably take all night to decide."
Fitzwilliam, who had gone to his study for a moment, walked back into the room with his cellphone. "What are we deciding on?"
"We're trying to decide what production we want to attend." Sir Percy looked up from Julianne's laptop.
"While in London?" Fitzwilliam asked.
"August 9th?" Fitzwilliam was looking at his phone.
"Yes, Fitz." Anne eyed him warily. "What aren't you telling us?"
He shook his head. "I don't know what you mean."
Elizabeth chuckled, recognizing the mischievous air William had about him. What is he up to? William gave her a wink as he handed his phone to Anne, who eagerly read the message on the screen.
Anne let out a high-pitched squeal as she grabbed hold of Fitzwilliam.
"What? What is it?" The whole party curiously called out, wanting to know what had Anne so uncharacteristically excited.
"Tickets!" Anne said, holding out the message for everyone to see.
"Brilliant!" Charlotte exclaimed.
Sir Percy took the phone and read the message aloud for the entire group to hear. "How did you manage this?" he asked his friend. "Tickets for all of us to a sold-out show?"
Fitzwilliam arched a brow. "I know some people."
Shaking her head, Elizabeth grinned over at William, and when the excitement had died down a bit she sidled next to him. "You are incredible, you know."
He shrugged his shoulders. "It's not a big deal."
"Yeah, look around this room. See the looks on those faces?" She smiled up at him. "It's a big deal."
"I just solved a bit of a problem."
"Not only are you a good kisser, but you're modest too."
"Good kisser? I thought you said I was a great kisser?"
Elizabeth laughed, taking hold of William's hand. "Come on, you." She led him back into the middle of the group, and sat down on the settee. Patting the cushion next to her, she invited William to join her. They sat quietly listening to Charlotte, Anne and Geoffrey talking about plans for their little holiday. Geoffrey seemed to be paying a great deal of attention to his wife, which was quite different from his usual behavior. Leaning over, William tipped his head to whisper in Elizabeth's ear. "Geoffrey certainly paid heed when you dressed him down last night. I haven't seen him sit that close to Anne in years."
"I merely told him what needed to be said," she said softly.
"You wouldn't know it, but Geoffrey courted Anne quite persistently."
"I do find that hard to imagine."
"Well, that was nearly twenty-five years ago. Much has changed."
"It was hilarious to watch him as he pursued her. She wouldn't give him the time of day even though..."
"Fitz, do you mind including the rest of the room, or is this a private conversation?" Sir Percy asked. "Shall we leave the pair of you alone?"
Surprised at the interruption William looked up to find everyone in the room staring at them. "Sorry?"
"William was just telling me about when Geoffrey and Anne first started dating." Elizabeth looked at the Rutherfords. "But I'd much rather hear it from you two."
Anne glanced at Geoffrey, embarrassed to be the topic of conversation.
"There's not really much to tell, not enough to hold anyone's interest," Geoffrey quickly responded.
"I disagree. It was very amusing to witness," William said.
"Quite," Sir Percy chuckled loudly. "Geoff was dogged in his pursuit."
"He was determined to win Anne's hand, even after Aunt Catherine banished him from the house." William turned to Geoffrey. "What did you do to make her so angry?"
Geoffrey sat tight-lipped shaking his head.
"Don't you remember, Fitz?" Sir Percy laughed. "Geoff was writing a message for Anne on her bedroom window, or at least what he thought was her window..."
"That's right! But it was Aunt Catherine's window, and he woke her up at three in the morning as he was writing it."
Everyone in the room was laughing, even Geoffrey whose face was red with embarrassment. Anne sidled next to her husband. "I hadn't thought about that in ages." She smiled. "I remember Mother opened the window and screamed at you, almost waking the entire household."
"How could you have mistaken the windows?" William asked. "I told you exactly which one was Anne's."
Geoffrey shrugged. "It was dark. I could hardly see where I was going, and I was carrying an enormous ladder across the garden."
"I would've given anything to see the look on your face when Aunt Catherine threw the curtains open."
"I tell you, I nearly fell off that ladder."
"If you had, maybe she wouldn't have made you clean the window."
Anne laughed. "Not only her window. She made him clean all the windows."
"That's right. I wondered what kept you so long. I thought you and Anne had eloped, until I saw you dragging through the door later that morning." William chuckled at the recollection.
"But you know, Fitz, I'm not the only man who has made a fool of himself for a woman," Geoffrey said.
William eyed him cautiously, wondering what story Geoffrey might have to share about him.
"I remember when you started dating Cecilia. You were hopeless."
"He was." Anne nodded. "I'd never seen a woman knock you off your feet before Celia."
"Do you remember some of the clothes she bought for Fitz?" Geoffrey turned to his brother.
"I remember those shoes he always wore." Sir Percy looked at his friend. "They were hideous."
Geoffrey chuckled. "I couldn't believe he actually wore them."
"They were pretty awful." Laughing, William shook his head. "But as you said, Geoff, I'm not the only man who's been a fool for a woman."
"Yeah, but it was surprising to see you jumping through hoops over a girl. It was so out of character," Geoffrey said. "I'd never seen you like that before."
"She really stole your heart," Sir Percy added.
"You know." Anne pointed to Fitzwilliam. "Cecilia not only stole your heart, she also stole your soul."
"Tonight was fun," Elizabeth said as she and William stood on Cresthaven's back porch. "I think our weekend in London will be a nice trip."
"Hmmm." William embraced Elizabeth. Tipping his head down, he moved to kiss Elizabeth, but stopped short.
She gazed up at him, wondering if he was going to kiss her or not. "What are you thinking?" she asked.
"Thinking about kissing you." He pressed his forehead against hers.
"Just thinking about it?"
"About what exactly? About whether you should? Because I can give you an answer for that."
Elizabeth waited for more of a response.
"I'm wondering why I've been downgraded to a good kisser when yesterday I was a great one."
She chuckled. "When did I tell you that?" She draped her arms around his neck, pulling herself closer to him.
"Had you just kissed me when I said it?"
"No, I haven't kissed you at all today. I haven't been alone with you."
Standing on the tips of her toes, she brushed her lips against his cheek. "Well, maybe that's the problem."
Lifting her off her feet, William softly pressed his lips to hers. Closing her eyes, Elizabeth returned the affectionate gesture, deepening the kiss as she held him tighter. William slowly released his hold of Elizabeth, then grazed her ear with his lips. "Great or good?" he whispered.
"Great." She bit her lower lip.
Grinning, he took her hand and stepped off the porch. "Let's walk."
"Okay." Elizabeth nodded. "It's a beautiful evening."
"It is." William replied, leading her down the garden path.
They walked silently at first until Elizabeth remembered something that had occurred earlier in the evening. "William?"
"What did Anne mean when she said that Cecilia had stolen your soul?"
William stopped, turning to face Elizabeth. "Oh, lord, that was twenty years ago. Do you expect me to remember something from that long ago?"
"Yes, I don't care if it was twenty days or twenty years, if someone stole my soul I would never forget it."
He heaved a sigh, then began slowly. "When I first met Celia it felt like my world came to a crashing halt."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. "When you say crashing, was it like a wave crashing on the sand or was it like two cars crashing in an intersection?"
William snickered. "It was more like a speeding locomotive crashing into a granite mountainside."
"When I met her, I was completely smitten."
"Smitten. I like that expression."
"In this situation, it's very apt. Everything about her enthralled me. She was passionate and beautiful. Talented, determined, headstrong. She rendered me utterly speechless."
"How old were you when you met her?"
"And how did you meet? Was it one of those blind dates Anne set up for you?"
He grinned. "No. We met at a party. I think it was some sort of art exhibit because I seem to remember being at an art gallery when I first saw her."
"Love at first sight?"
"I wouldn't say love. It was more of stunned at first sight."
Elizabeth laughed at the thought of William in a stupor staring at a woman, and remembered the many times she had seen him in such a way.
"It's easy for you to laugh about it. When I was with Celia I was completely daft. It's like I forgot who I was and I suppose that's why Anne says that Cecilia stole my soul."
"She also said that she stole your heart."
"Yeah, and Percy says the same thing, but I don't think that's the case." William raked his hand through his hair. "You know, this is not one of my favorite topics of discussion."
"I know, but I'd still like to hear about it."
He sighed, then continued. "When I fell for her I fell hard. There wasn't anything I wouldn't do for her and when it all fell apart several years later I realized that I didn't like who I was when I was with her...how I had changed and who I had become. I had compromised so much and I don't think that's what love is supposed to do to you. So, I would say that yes, Cecilia, for a time, stole my soul, but she never stole my heart."
"Elizabeth?" Charlotte was surprised to see her friend at the door. "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"Come inside." She motioned Elizabeth in. "You looked troubled. Are you sure you're okay?"
Elizabeth nodded. "I just wanted to talk."
"Of course, you know I'm here anytime you need me."
"I know, and I appreciate it."
"So, what's on your mind?" Charlotte asked when she and Elizabeth were comfortably settled in the living room.
"Well, do you recall what Anne said last night about Cecilia stealing William's soul?"
"I asked him what Anne meant by that, and, much to my surprise, he talked about his first marriage. He told me how he met his wife and what she was like."
"Did he tell you why they split up?"
"No, he didn't go into that, but I'm having a hard time with what he did tell me. I just don't understand it. How could he have fallen for a woman so obviously unsuited for him?"
Drawing in a deep breath, Charlotte pursed her lips. "I don't know what to tell you. I've been baffled by the very same thing. Fitz is one of the best men I know, intelligent and caring, but when it comes to women..."
"Why would he fall for a woman like that? Because, you know, just hearing about her I don't think I would have liked her at all."
"I know what you mean. I really didn't care for Cecilia, but we didn't see much of her, or Fitz, when he was married to her. She didn't like Lambton society and didn't bother with us."
"He mentioned that he changed a lot when they got together."
"I think he tried to find balance, but she was very high-maintenance and demanding."
"Like I said, I don't like her at all and I can't see why he was attracted to her."
"I guess you can't help who you fall in love with."
"Yeah, well, I don't know." Elizabeth shook her head. "How could he be so clueless?"
"It seems so obvious that she was the wrong type of woman for him. And it's not only his first wife. Look at Caroline, she's a horror story."
"Yes, but there's something you may not know about their marriage, and I doubt Fitz would have mentioned it."
"What might that be?"
"Caroline was expecting when they married. That's why they rushed to the altar."
"He tried to make things work with Caroline for Ian's sake, but it was a losing battle. After about six years or so he couldn't take any more and had to get out."
"Well, I'm glad he did, for his sake and Ian's, but it still doesn't account for why he was with these women."
"I don't know what to tell you." Charlotte shook her head. "I don't even know if Fitz could account for it."
"Hmmm." Elizabeth sighed softly while staring out the window.
"I was just thinking about you," Elizabeth said when she opened the door Monday afternoon and found William standing on her doorstep.
"That's odd, because I was just thinking about you." He grinned.
Elizabeth chuckled. "You look very nice all dressed up. Where are you off to?"
"Actually, I was on my way home."
"From the office?"
"Why don't you come in?" She motioned for him to follow her to the sitting room. He took a seat, crossing his legs as he reclined in an armchair. "Did you have a busy day?" she asked.
"Very busy, but I don't wish to talk about that."
"Okay, what would you like to talk about?"
"Nothing in particular."
"All right, we don't have to talk about anything if you don't feel like it. Let me get you something to drink." Elizabeth swiftly left the room, then returned with a drink for William. His head was tipped back against the chair and his eyes were closed. "William?" she said in a whisper. There was no response from him. She smiled as she gazed at him for a moment before setting the glass on the lamp table and leaving the room.
About forty minutes later William found Elizabeth walking in the garden near the low stone wall at the edge of the property. "Why did you let me sleep?"
"Why would I wake you?" She smiled up at him.
"Because I came to see you, not to nap."
"But you were obviously very tired and needed to rest."
He ran his hand through his already tousled hair. "I'm sorry to have fallen asleep."
"Don't worry about it. Would you like to stay for dinner?"
"Yes, I would."
"Good, I was hoping you'd agree," she said while reaching up to loosen the knot of his tie. "I like having you around."
He grinned as he wrapped his arms around her waist. "I quite like being around." Leaning down, he kissed her softly, then enveloped her in his embrace. They held each other silently until William's stomach growled loud enough for both of them to hear.
Elizabeth laughed. "Hungry?"
"I am feeling a bit peckish."
"Well, then, let's see if dinner's ready."
"Did Anne and Geoffrey arrive home safely?" Elizabeth asked William at the dinner table.
"It was nice to see them again," Elizabeth said, hoping to have another conversation with William about his first marriage.
"I think they should visit more often."
"I'm looking forward to spending the weekend with them next month."
William nodded, but made no verbal response.
"Anne seems to enjoy reminiscing with you."
"A bit too much."
"What? You don't like to talk about old times?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "That depends."
"Depends on what?"
Leaning back in his chair, William regarded Elizabeth for moment. "If I feel like talking."
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed, but she said nothing to William, thinking about how evasive he could be.
"But tonight..." He placed his hand atop hers. "I actually don't wish to talk."
"You don't want to talk?" Elizabeth pulled her hand away. "Then why did you come over?"
"I came over to see you. To spend time with you."
"But you don't want to speak to me? No conversation?"
"No, of course I want to have conversation...I just don't want to..." He furrowed his brow. "Let me clarify what I said, or what I meant when I said I didn't want to talk tonight."
"Okay." Elizabeth shifted in her chair, crossing her arms while waiting for William to continue.
"I'm not much of a conversationalist tonight." He grimaced. "It's been a hectic day and I don't feel as if I could contribute anything worthwhile."
The expression on Elizabeth's face softened and she relaxed in her seat. "All right, we don't have to talk. Why don't we clear the table then go for a stroll?"
"I was thinking..."
"Unless you would rather stay in," Elizabeth interrupted.
"Maybe we could have a sit in the garden."
"We can do that." Elizabeth smiled. "In fact, let's not even worry about the dishes."
William chuckled. "No, I can help you clean up."
"Let's just go outside." Elizabeth took hold of William's hand. Wordlessly, William agreed and followed Elizabeth out to the garden.
"It was such good fun," Mary said to Elizabeth as they ate their lunch. "I'm so pleased you invited me."
"I'm glad you came," Elizabeth replied, thinking that she almost hadn't included Mary. "I think everyone enjoyed the party."
"Percy most of all."
"Yes, he may not remember it, but he certainly enjoyed it."
"And I also want to thank you for your help, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth looked at Mary, confused. "My help with what?"
"For speaking to Fitz for me. For helping break down his barriers."
If Elizabeth was confused at Mary's first expression, she was now truly perplexed. "But I..."
"You did speak to him, didn't you?"
"I mentioned to him that I was inviting you to the party, but I didn't..." Elizabeth thought for moment. "Why? What happened with Fitzwilliam?"
"Well, after I said goodbye to you and Charlotte I was heading out when Fitz caught me up."
Elizabeth's eyes widened in surprise. "He spoke to you?"
"Yes, we actually talked for a bit. He walked me to my car and even gave a hug before I left."
"That's really remarkable. I'm amazed to hear you tell me this." Elizabeth shook her head. "I never expected this."
"Me neither, but thank you for speaking to him. You must have said something to him to cause him change his mind about me."
Elizabeth nodded, still surprised at Mary's news, but even more that William hadn't said a word to her about this and she had seen him every day since the party. I wonder why he hasn't mentioned any of this to me. She thought. But that's not important. What matters is that he spoke to Mary. He actually started a conversation with her. A smile curled Elizabeth lips.
Posted on 2013-07-26
"Did Mr. Darcy not ring to tell you he'd be late?" Bessie asked Elizabeth as she was setting the table for the evening meal.
"Why would he?"
"Because he's been here for dinner every night this week. Aren't you expecting him?"
"No, not really," Elizabeth said. "We didn't make any plans."
"I thought he was becoming a regular guest."
Elizabeth looked at her curiously, then shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't heard from him today."
After dinner Elizabeth took her easel out to the garden and was sketching an arbor adorned with a climbing sweet pea vine when William's voice drew her attention. "I thought you might be out here on such a fine evening."
She smiled when she heard him, then glanced back to see him before returning to her drawing. "It is a beautiful evening."
William leaned down, giving Elizabeth a kiss on her cheek. "What are you working at?" He kept close as he peered over her shoulder to look at her sketch. Elizabeth could feel his face nearly brushing against hers and she found his proximity almost unnerving. "Ah, sweet pea."
Nodding, she smiled deeper as she felt her cheeks color. "Um hmm."
"My mother adored sweet peas. Traditional and charming, she said." The warmth of his breath caressed her skin as he spoke, not having budged from his initial position. He moved a tad closer. "I quite agree. Very charming."
"Yes, they are. Fragrant too."
"Mmm, sweet fragrance." He nuzzled against her, kissing her earlobe.
Elizabeth cocked her head. "We are talking about the flowers, you know."
"I know." He kissed her again.
Shifting in her seat, Elizabeth looked him in the eye as she took his face in her hands. Gently, she kissed his lips. "You are very distracting. You know that, don't you?"
He smiled his dimpled smile. "I'm sorry. Would you like to continue with your sketch?"
"No," she drawled. "The light is beginning to fade. I'll work on it again tomorrow."
"Shall we take a stroll?"
"Where? The sun will be setting soon."
"We don't have to walk far. We can stay close to home if you like."
"Okay, but let me gather my things inside. I'll be right back."
William waited by the garden gate, and when Elizabeth joined him he took hold of her hand. "Where shall we go?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know."
"All right, we'll go where the winds lead us."
They walked out across meadows on the southeast end of Cresthaven as the evening was growing dark and the stars were showing themselves, first as tiny points of light, then increasing in brightness against the dusky arch of the sky. "Let's sit there." William gestured toward a spot on the crest of a hillock, then tugged at Elizabeth's hand to hurry her along.
After Elizabeth sat down William settled in close to her side. Before long he stretched out, lying back with his hands beneath his head. "Are you going to sleep?" she asked.
"Just getting comfortable." Reaching out, he motioned for her to join him. "Come see, the sky is brilliant tonight."
Elizabeth looked upwards then back at William before reclining next to him. They gazed wordlessly at the tapestry of stars overhead, relaxing in the silence. The cares of the world seemed as distant as those flickering lights in the heavens. "It's indescribable," Elizabeth said, breaking the stillness.
"Quite." William whispered, drawing his arm around Elizabeth, pulling her closer to his side.
Instinctively, Elizabeth snuggled against him. "When I was a girl my sisters and I would spend summer evenings lying in the backyard, looking at the stars."
William grinned, envisioning a young stargazing Elizabeth.
"My father would sometimes join us. He knew the names of the constellations and would tell us the stories behind each of them, but I don't remember much of it."
"Surely, you can't have forgotten all he taught you."
"I do remember the constellation with the little bear, Ursa Minor." Elizabeth pointed up at the sky. "Do you see it with the bright star at the tip?"
"I do." William nodded. "Polaris, the north star."
"I remember the story because I always laughed when Dad would tell about the baby bear that had an uncommonly long tail because of being held by the tip of his tail and spun around the sky."
William chuckled. "I never really thought about it as a humorous story when I was a lad, but I always paid more attention to Draco, the dragon whose tail circles around the little bear." William pointed towards the constellation. "Can you see him up there, just off to the left?"
"His head is right here, and you can see how his tail loops down and around..."
Elizabeth leaned in closer to William, trying to see exactly what he was showing her. "Okay, I see it now. His tail goes around and ends here." She waved her hand in the air, following the pattern of the stars.
Resting her head on his shoulder, Elizabeth listened as William pointed out more of the star formations and told her the mythological tales about them. She smiled, enjoying the soothing sound of his voice as he shared his knowledge of astronomy. Occasionally she would interject a question or comment, recalling something her father had told her when she was young. They remained in the field, talking and gazing at the stars until William noticed that Elizabeth had become very quiet.
"Liz? Are you awake?" William gently shook her shoulder. The only sound he could hear from her was her rhythmic breathing. She was asleep and he debated about waking her. Reluctantly, he shifted as he tried to rouse her again. "Elizabeth, it's late. We should get you home." She groaned, burying her face deeper into his chest.
"Come on, love." William gently pulled his arm out from beneath her. She hardly seemed fazed by it. "Well, dearest..." He brushed the hair from her face. "You are either extremely tired or a very heavy sleeper."
"No, I'm not," Elizabeth said without opening her eyes.
"There she is, awake at last."
"I'll have you know I'm not a heavy sleeper." She finally stirred, feigning a scowl as she rolled onto her back.
"I'm going to disagree. You are definitely a deep sleeper, and one that makes funny little noises too," he teased.
"I do not," she argued.
"How would you know? You're asleep."
"I just know."
"You seem pretty confident about that."
Leaning over, he kissed her tenderly. "That's one of the things I love about you." He kissed her again. "Confident and stubborn."
"Two things. Those are two separate things, in case you were having trouble counting."
He smiled a dimpled smile that Elizabeth could barely discern in the moonlight. "Cheeky, too. Another thing I love."
Elizabeth grinned at him, thinking about some of the things she loved about him, one of them being this playful mood of his. "Cheeky? I don't know what makes you think that I'm cheeky."
"You don't know?" He leaned closer to her, stroking her face with his fingertips. Gently, he kissed her lips. "I don't think I've ever met anyone who's as cheeky as you are."
"I hadn't even met you and I knew you were cheeky."
"Impossible." She shook her head. "You can't..."
"Yes..." he interrupted. "The very first time I saw you, you gave me an impudent smirk from across the room, and I'd never even spoken to you."
Elizabeth laughed, recalling the day she had first encountered William. "That seems so long ago, I can hardly remember what happened."
"I remember very well, and you, love, were most definitely cheeky." He kissed the tip of her nose. "But, never mind all that. Right now we need to get you home. It's past midnight." He stood and held his hand out to help her up. "What will the neighbors say if they catch us sneaking in at this late hour?"
"Neighbors? What will Bessie say?"
William's eyes widened. "You're in trouble, to be sure."
Chuckling, Elizabeth linked her arm with William's and they headed back to Cresthaven.
"Hello?" Elizabeth answered the telephone.
"How are you this morning?" William asked from the other end of the line.
She smiled at the sound of his voice. "A little tired since you kept me out into the wee hours of the morning."
He chuckled. "It was terribly late."
"It was a wonderful evening. I can't remember the last time I laid beneath the stars."
"It was brilliant."
"We should go again before summer is over."
"Yes, there's much we should do this summer."
"What else would you like to do?"
"Oh, I've had quite a few ideas," William replied, thinking about some of the many experiences he wanted to share
with Elizabeth. "Just the other day I recalled our outing to Gloaman's glen..."
"I remember that day," Elizabeth said. How could I possibly forget it? "That was the day you first taught me to ride." And the day you first kissed me.
"Yes, it was, and I was thinking another ride to the glen would be rather nice, don't you think?"
Elizabeth thought for a moment, not sure how to respond as she recalled the day she and William spent in Gloaman's glen. "I think it sounds wonderful," she answered, confident that a second outing would be better than the first. Not that the first one was bad...it was just surprising...but not in a bad way...just a little uncomfortable...for me...the timing was...I just wasn't ready for it, but now with things the way they are, I think it will be fine...lovely, in fact. "We should definitely plan to go out again. Did you have a day in mind?"
"How about tomorrow?"
"That would be lovely. It's been a while since we rode together."
"It has. Shall I come past around eleven?"
"Eleven sounds perfect."
The next morning William arrived just before eleven o'clock and the pair struck out on horseback. The sun was at its zenith when they arrived at the glen. After securing the horses William led Elizabeth through the densely wooded area to the seclusion of the small hollow.
"I can see why you and your friends liked to spend time here," Elizabeth said, taking in the beauty of the glen for the second time. "It's even lovelier than I remember."
William nodded in response, then set a blanket down in the shade of a large tree. He dropped the picnic hamper atop it, then sat down cross legged. Elizabeth took a seat beside him, watching as he opened the lunch he had packed. "What have you brought?" she asked, peeking into the basket.
"Let's see...quiche... mixed salad...lemon cheesecake..." he replied, setting each item on the blanket as he enumerated it.
"Sounds delicious." Elizabeth reached over, taking the plates and utensils from the hamper. She laid them out by the food. "Did you prepare any of this?"
"Not hardly." He winked at her. "Marks and Spencer."
"I've never tried their quiche, is it good?"
"It's easy." His smile dimpled. "But this cheesecake is quite good. Here, have a taste." William put a fork in the lemon dessert and offered a bite to Elizabeth.
"Mmmm...that is very good."
Elizabeth smiled, while reaching for another bite of cake.
"Eating dessert first?" William wiped a crumb from her lip. "Good girl."
She raised her brow, not being able to respond with her mouth full.
"Here, you can have an entire slice. " He put a piece on her plate. "But you must be sure to eat your lunch too."
Giggling, she stabbed her fork into the creamy cake William had handed her. "Of course, but only after I've eaten this."
He gazed at her with an adoring expression, the smile broadening across his face. "I'm glad you agreed to join me today."
She matched his smile as she stared into his eyes, thinking about how much she enjoyed spending time with him. "As am I." Feeling a flush on her cheeks, Elizabeth returned her attention to her dessert. "Charlotte and I were talking the other day about our weekend in London and she suggested that we take the train."
"Percy mentioned the same when I spoke to him."
"I thought it'd be nice."
"I can't believe it's only a few days from now. There's still so much to do before we leave."
"Will you be buying a new dress?"
"As a matter of fact, I am. I need something to wear to the theater."
"I look forward to seeing it."
Biting her lower lip, she giggled. "You will."
As they ate they discussed the plans for their short holiday in town. "I was hoping to have a chance to see Hugh, but it seems as though Anne has accounted for every minute," William said, shaking his head.
"I'm sure you'll be able to spend time with him."
"I'm not so sure. Did you receive an invitation to Anne's party?"
"On Saturday night? Yes, I did. It sounds like she's spent a lot of time preparing for it."
"A bit too much, I'd say."
Elizabeth laughed. "I was wondering what you would think about her murder mystery party."
William rolled his eyes in response.
"So, you're not happy about it?"
"It's not really the type of party I attend."
"Yeah, but if you had your way you wouldn't go to any sort of party."
"That's not entirely true."
"Tell me, then, what party would you attend without complaint?"
"Any one you invited me to."
She smiled. "You would?"
"Of course. I came to your barbeque."
"That's true, you did."
"Not to worry, though. I'll be at Anne's fancy dress party."
"It should be an enjoyable evening."
"Well, I'm excited about it, about the whole weekend."
"It will be a nice holiday."
When they had finished with lunch and had cleared away their mess William suggested they explore the glen. They walked slowly, winding their way through the trees. William seemed distracted, examining each of the trees as they passed by.
"Are you looking for something?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes, there's a tree somewhere around here..." He paused, continuing his search. "It has very odd limbs. I want to see if it's...there it is!" William pointed towards a gnarled weeping ash a short distance from where they stood.
"Ooh, that is strange looking." Elizabeth said when she saw the tangled branches of the tree.
"Indeed." He passed his hand along a twisted limb. "I always found it intriguing." He raised his foot, lodging it in the crook of a low branch as he hoisted himself up. "And fantastic for climbing."
Elizabeth looked at him incredulously. "Are you seriously going to climb that tree?"
"You're not a boy any more, you know."
"What has that to do with it?"
Laughing, she shook her head. "Apparently nothing."
"Would you care to join me?" He held out his hand to her.
"No, thank you. The last thing I need is to get stuck in a tree."
He smiled, then climbed up further. As he pressed his full weight across the next branch he could hear the limb groaning against the load. William hastily scrambled down, landing in a pile of leaves at the base.
"Giving up your quest?" Elizabeth asked.
Chuckling, William brushed the debris off his jeans. "I may have weighed a stone or two less when I first climbed it."
"I would imagine so." She laughed. "My grandmother had an apple tree in her backyard that my sisters and I used to play in. I used to climb to the highest branches and would pick the biggest apples."
William grinned, envisioning Elizabeth as a young girl climbing trees. "What would grandmother do if she happened to see you up there?"
"Oh, she saw me." She smiled at the remembrance. "Gran would step out onto the back porch and call up to me 'Lizzy, pick a few apples for a pie while you're up there.' She would send up a basket for me to fill, and then we would spend the afternoon peeling apples for pie."
"Were you close to her, your grandmother?"
Elizabeth inclined her head. "I was. She didn't live far from us and I would find any reason to run to her house to spend time with her."
Taking her hand, William pulled Elizabeth closer. "You were fortunate to live in such proximity to her."
"Yes, she was wonderful. I can't help but look back fondly on our time together."
"What about grandfather?"
"Granddad? Oh, I adored him as well."
"Were these your maternal grandparents or paternal?"
"My father's parents. I preferred them over my mother's."
"Hmmm, I felt the complete opposite about mine."
William bobbed his head. "My father's parents were cool and distant, whereas Mother's were approachable and caring. I had no doubt of their love for me." He paused for a moment. "I hope to be that type of grandparent."
"I'm sure you will."
"I suppose I have a bit of time before I need to worry."
"Most likely, but for me, it may be sooner than I'm prepared to admit."
"I think you will be a brilliant grandmother."
Elizabeth winced. "Please, let's not talk about that."
As his smile widened William enveloped Elizabeth in his arms. "Why not? The notion of you surrounded by grandchildren is positively charming."
"But there's no need to get ahead of things. I don't feel quite ready to enter that phase of my life."
"I suppose you're right." He kissed her tenderly. "You are terribly young to be a grandmother."
Unwrapping his arms from Elizabeth's waist, William took hold of her hand, leading her back toward their blanket. Elizabeth sat down, leaning against the trunk of a tree while William searched through the picnic hamper.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Looking for this." William pulled out a book. "Poetry for a brilliant summer's day."
"What is it you're reading?"
"Keats, The Fall of Hyperion. Have you read it?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "No."
"Here, let me share it with you," he said, dropping to the ground beside her.
William opened the front cover, flipped to the first canto and began reading. "Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave..." He paused for a moment.
"Is something the matter?"
"I can't read to you like this." He moved closer to Elizabeth, sidling next to her as he once again opened the book to continue. "A paradise for a sect; the savage..." He paused again, then without a word shifted to lie down, resting his head on her lap. "This way you can see all the pictures."
Laughing aloud, Elizabeth doubted that there were any pictures in the book at all.
Once comfortably settled William began reading again, starting at the beginning of the poem. At first Elizabeth wasn't sure where to place her hands. It felt awkward when she let them drop to her sides, but with William taking up her entire lap she had little choice but to rest them on him. Noticing that his hair looked a little unkempt, she brushed it back, lightly running her fingers through the thick waves. He sighed as she did so, encouraging Elizabeth to continue with her attentions to his unruly locks as he read Keats aloud.
About halfway through the first canto William paused, tipping his head back to catch Elizabeth's eye. "Are you bored?"
"Not at all."
"Are you certain? I won't read on if this is too dull."
"I actually enjoy listening to you read poetry - so much better than reading it myself. I never seem to get the cadence right."
"All right." He raised the book and picked up where he had left off as Elizabeth began to massage his scalp with her fingertips. Several minutes later Elizabeth noticed William's speech slowing, then he laid the book across his chest and closed his eyes.
"Finished?" she asked.
"For the present."
"Am I distracting you?"
"I would be lying if I said you weren't, but I don't wish for you to stop."
Elizabeth grinned to herself while continuing to run her hands through his hair. "You need a haircut."
"Do you think so?"
She gently grabbed a handful of tresses. "It's getting a bit shaggy."
He laughed. "I hadn't noticed."
"I think it looks nice when it's shorter, especially on the sides," she said while flicking the hair that was lying over his ears.
Rising up from Elizabeth's lap, William gently kissed her lips. "Should we head back? I'm afraid if I stay here any longer I'll end up falling asleep." He kissed her again. "Unless you'd like to stay."
"I wouldn't mind staying a while longer."
"All right," he said while settling back in her lap. "As long as you keep giving my scalp a massage."
"Right." Elizabeth ruffled his hair. "Then you'll be sure to fall asleep."
William grinned in response.
"Are you going to continue reading?"
"I'd much rather nap."
"Well, I'd much rather hear the rest of the poem." Elizabeth picked up the book. "Where did you leave off?" She started leafing through the pages.
"Here, give me that." William reached for the book. "You can't read poetry, you said so yourself."
Elizabeth held the book just out of his reach. "Since you're so tired you'll have to listen to me read it."
"No." He reached for it again, but Elizabeth pulled it back further. "You're not going to make me pry that from your clutches are you?"
She gave him an impish smile, and then before she knew what had happened William had risen from his recumbent position, laid her on her back and wrangled the book from her hand. He grinned as he hovered over her. Elizabeth threw him a saucy glance then moved to get up, but William quickly dropped the book and took hold of her hands, pinning them down. They held each other's eyes with their own, neither of them speaking, but feeling the current of passion that connected them. Finally Elizabeth arched a brow, saying, "So, who's going to finish reading the poem now?"
Laughing, William released his hold of her and fell onto his back.
Elizabeth stood, brushed off her clothes then picked up the book of poetry that William had carelessly flung onto the ground. "I think it's time we leave."
"I believe you're right," William said, without making a move to get up.
"Come on, you. Let's get a move on."
William sat up. "You're not upset with me, are you?"
She shook her head, putting her hand out to help him up.
"Good." William stood. "I'd hate to think I had spoiled our afternoon together."
"No, I'm not upset." She stood on the tips of her toes, placing a kiss on his cheek. "But next time give me a warning before you tackle me."
"Agreed." He inclined his head, tenderly kissing her parted lips.To Be Continued . . .