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An Even Path: Post 4

June 11, 2017 07:16AM
Author's note: As promised, most of the changes in these re-posts are subtle, tidying up the writing. I did raise Bertram's rank to Earl.For those just skimming in search of new material, here's the cliffnotes summary: the new stuff is really this post below. I've expanded Will and Elizabeth's rink chat, I've added to their hospital scene, and I've made some minor improvements to the subsequent dinner. Emma and Knightley's dinner conversation also take a more serious, but in some ways I think necessary, turn.

Enjoy!


Chapter 6

"Mr. Knightley,” a small, fair haired cherub was skating towards him, “where's the hot chocolate stand?”

"It's near where we hung our coats." George Knightley dug into his pocket to see if he had any loose change. "Do you need change, Lulu?"

"No, Miss Emma gave me pocket money. I've enough now for Daisy, too."

“Miss Emma did?”

Lulu gestured behind her. George's gaze lifted. Emma, beguiling in tights, a skating skirt and a cable-knit jumper, skated closer. Her blonde hair was hidden in a winter cap.

He'd known that Emma served as a watchful guardian to various youngsters this morning. He hadn't realized how much time she'd devoted to Daisy and little Lulu.

The playful smile Emma offered him sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

“Mr. Knightley?” Daisy prompted.

“Ah.” George managed. The children were still waiting to be dismissed. Lulu, who was five years older and a whole head taller than Daisy, could be relied upon to make sure Daisy wouldn't wander too far afield.“You can head over there. Just skate back when you're done."

George and Emma watched as the small pair skated to the edge of the ice rink.

“That was kind of you,” said George.

“Oh, my pocket money's as good as yours.” Emma used her skates to slide herself closer to where George stood. She linked hands with him, tugging him toward the metal rink bench. “My skate's come untied. Mind helping?”

He couldn't help his grin. He followed her, letting his tired legs settle on the bench. George shifted her booted foot up over his lap. Picking up the laces she had undoubtedly untied herself, he twisted them into a tight bow, double-knotting the laces. “You're great with the children. If I'd just met you, I'd ask what I had to do to make you a regular volunteer.”

"If I'd just met you,” Emma said, “I'd say the program director is pretty cute. Do you think he'd mind if I flirt with him?”

"Depends on your approach. I hear he's partial to blondes."

"I love an upper hand," Mischief brightened her eyes. "Fred Wentworth over there looks pretty lonely, so I guess I'll just wander over that way--"

Emma stood playfully, letting out a squeal of laughter as he looped his arm around her waist and dragged her onto his lap.

"Try it, Blondie," he said, trapping her in an embrace, "and I'm booting you from the ice rink."

"I guess you're stuck with me then." She grinned and shifted in his arms, greeting him with a proper kiss. It was a warm spark in the cold ice rink.

"Morning, Emma," he whispered as she drew back.

"Morning, George."

"You have a soft spot for ice skating that I didn't know about?"

"It's a good cause." She shivered against him. "Plus, it's the best way to spend time with you. I feel like the hospital interns see more of you than I do."

George chuckled. "Hen does say she sees so much of me during the day, she's started dreaming about me at night." Emma found this less than amusing. Her blue eyes narrowed.

"What kind of dreams?" she questioned flatly.

"I didn't ask. Probably something senseless, where the hospital turns into a pyramid and the patients are sea creatures. It's long days and long hours, you know?"

Emma sighed, mildly mollified. "I know. I know your work is important, and I know it means long hours...and it would probably be less of a trial for me if I had a job to keep me occupied."

"Given further thought to that, have you?"

"Yes?” She shook her head. “No. I don't know. Some days I wake up wanting to be something ludicrous, like an astronaut."

"An astronaut?" His brow furrowed.

"An astronaut with cute shoes." She laughed. "Other days, the job potential list is a little more down to earth. It changes by the hour. I just need to find something other than hemlines and shoe sizes that I'm decent at, and try to get on with that while you save lives."

George took her fingers in his hands, drawing them close to his own chest, rubbing them between his own to warm them. Her gaze softened. He makes it so easy to love him, Emma thought. It was no wonder her heart ached at the thought of being apart from him.

"When we're apart,” she whispered, “I just miss you. That's all I know."

"I miss you, too." His eyes locked with hers. He missed her, too. It was an honest, simple truth, straight from his heart. It was also an intense understatement. He spent his free time at the hospital thinking about her. He delighted in the brief messages she left on his answering machine. He woke up reaching for her. He more than missed her. "Emma, I think--"

"Eeew, are you going to kiss her again?" a small voice chirped.

The couple turned to see two little boys staring at them with bold faced curiosity. The speaker was Marco, six years old and full of delighted repulsion over the prospect.

"Course not, silly. She's a girl. Girls have cooties,” said Diego, Marco's older brother. Diego was quite sure of this fact. Even if Emma one was unusually pretty, she was still a girl. Like his mum. And his father hardly ever kissed his mum, at least not when he and Marco were watching.

"This girl doesn't have cooties," Emma said, feigning indignation.

"I'm sure Mr. Knightley has taken proper precautions, Diego." It was Elizabeth Bennet who caught up with the boys. Lizzie's dark hair was pulled from her face in an intricate side braid that swept from ear to ear like headband. She wore black leggings, a white top and equally white skating boots. "After all, he is a doctor."

"Elizabeth.” Knightley's greeting held confusion.

"Morning, Knightley. Sorry to interrupt. You two looked cozy together, and I tried to get these two lads here to leave you be, but they dashed ahead faster than I could manage. Battery powered, I think," Elizabeth laughed. "Would you like tea? Anne's buying one herself."

"No, I'm alright, thanks. Anne's here too, is she?" George questioned.

"Yes," Elizabeth answered pleasantly. "These are Anne's nephews, Marco and Diego Musgrove. Emma suggested the ice rink for the lot of us. It's a grand day for a skate even if it is chilly." She placed a hand on both boys' shoulders. "We'll leave you to your chat."

When the trio had skated off, George Knightley murmured one word. "Emma...”

"Don't you think I should greet Anne over there? I don't want to be rude..."

"Emma, you knew that Will and Fred would be here."

"Yes, along with you, and fifteen children. Anne got stuck with babysitting duty for the day. They're her sister Maria's children. What's the harm in everyone coming together and having a fun time?"

"You knew Will and Fred were coming today. Not only do you have a scheme to set up Will and Lizzie, now you are plotting to set up Anne and Frederick again. Aren't you?"

"And just what is wrong with that?"

“Emma, do the names Harriet Smith and Christopher Martin not bring back memories?"

"Darling, this is completely different. Besides, they ended up happy, didn't they?"

"Only after you tried to push Harriet into the arms of another man.”

That topic swiftly soured Emma's expression. “I never pushed Hattie into your arms. She tried that all on her own."

"Without success."

"Anyway, I've learned a lot since then. I can spot a perfect couple more successfully now. That's probably because we're together now, and I'm so terribly in love with you, I finally know what a healthy couple looks like." She pushed off the bench and gestured towards Anne. "I really do have to go say hello to her."

"Emma." He halted her with a hand on her arm. "Next Friday."

"Yes?" she answered with pleasant curiosity. "What happens next Friday?"

"We're going out. A proper date. No interruptions, no plotting, no surprise guests. Just you and me." His eyes darkened with sincerity, "no one between us. Okay?"

"Okay. A date. Yes."

Emma felt her heart fluttered, a million little butterflies beating swiftly in her chest, as he skated away.



**



"Diego, stop. Stop that at once. You mustn't pull on Marco like that, it isn't nice and you could hurt him. He's much smaller than you. Instead of pulling him ahead by his coat, just skate slowly so he can keep up with you."

Watching the boys take their first, struggling loop around the rink, Anne couldn't contain her sigh.

"I hate that every sentence out of my mouth with them is a correction," she muttered.

Exhausting, isn't it? thought Elizabeth. The rambunctious Musgrove boys would give anyone a migraine—and Lizzie had grown up in a household of wild boys. Privately, she thought Anne deserved sainthood. Anne routinely babysat her nephews while their mother suffered from whatever imaginary malady she could concoct for an afternoon free of them.

"It isn't your fault, Anne," Elizabeth spoke aloud. "They haven't the least bit of discipline at home. At least they listen to you when you tell them no."

"I'm just afraid of them getting hurt," Anne said, wincing as one boy tried to leap over the other in some game of ice-skate leap frog. Leaning over the barrier into the ice rink, she switched to Spanish for extra emphasis, "both feet on the ground, please!"

"Oh, Saints preserve us," Elizabeth whispered, "what is he doing here?"

"Who?" Anne questioned over the steam of her cup of tea. She took a careful sip and let her gaze roam. There were quite a lot of children here, and so far Marco and Diego hadn't managed to interact with any of them. The other children, both boys and girls, looked to be participants in a youth program. Two other men lingered near the opposite end of the rink. One of the men was Will Darcy, no surprise there. The other man was--

"Dios mio..."

Frederick Wentworth.

"Who's doing what where?" Emma questioned as she skated up to the pair.

"Will Darcy," Elizabeth accused.

"Frederick Wentworth?” Anne frowned.

“Oh. Them?” Emma's voice lifted. "The thing is, we have a very small social circle. You know that we do. We're all bound to run into each other occasionally. What are the chances, right? Anne, I know it's hard for you to see Fred, but it's a big ice rink. You'll barely notice each other."

“It's not that big,” Elizabeth interjected flatly.

"Come on, Lizzie, you told me you'd be nice to Will for George's sake, remember?"

"I remember. And then I remember changing my mind when he left the pub acting like a boor. That's mostly all I remember about him, too, because it's always how he acts when he comes round me. It makes things uncomfortable for me."

“So,” said Emma, “he makes a bad first impression.”

“And second impression, and third. We're on try four now, in case you lost count?”

"You never did mention what Will said at the pub," Anne questioned with quiet curiosity. Her dark eyes turned speculative.

“It wasn't worth mentioning. And Emma, stop frowning at me like that. You don't know Will like I do."

"You're right, I don't," Emma agreed with a firm nod. "I know him better.”

“But--”

“Please, Lizzie? Give him another shot. You'll be surprised by what you discover, I promise." She grabbed her friend by the shoulders, turning her to face in Will Darcy's direction. "Do you see what he's doing over there? He volunteers for this children's group once a month. From the looks of it, all the kids love him. Just go over and talk to him a little, and then tell me if you really think he's so terrible."



**

When five year old Katie tried for the second time that morning to skate and fell for the second time, it was Will Darcy who knelt beside her.

"Third time's a charm, right Katie?" he questioned softly. The child's dark, curling hair reminded him of Georgiana. Each time she fell and cried with hot, wet tears on her face, the sight was like a shard straight into his heart. "Maybe we need to tighten these laces."

"I can't skate," she sniffled. "I tried, and tried. Ev'ryone else can skate, but I can't. I'll never learn!"

"You know what, Katie? When I was your age, I was terrible at football. My dad, mind you, he was brilliant at it. He could use his head, his feet, his knees, anywhere, any time, and get a goal. He might have been a pro footballer if he'd aimed for it."

If not for the family name, Will amended internally. Second tier footballer wasn't a fine enough ambition for a Darcy, and his father had known it, even as a teenager. But Alexander Darcy had loved the beautiful game; Will had a scrapbook full of his father's old photos, medals and trophies to prove it.

"I knew my dad loved it,” Will continued, “and the first time I got on the pitch, I wanted to be just as good as he was. And you know what?"

"What?" the five year old questioned.

"I was awful at it. I had to work twice as hard as the rest of my mates to even keep up with them. But because of that, because I had to work so hard, I grew stronger and faster until one day I was the best player on the team, just like my dad. Sometimes, Katie, it's the stuff we have to work hardest at that we find we love the most. And because it was hard, it means that much more to us."

He didn't know how much of that Katie absorbed. Maybe her mind had wandered. Maybe she was already thinking of hot chocolate and the car ride home with her mother. Nonetheless, when he stopped talking, her tears were dry and her smile had returned. That had to count for something.

"You tie shoe laces like my daddy used to tie 'em." She looked up at him with hopeful, watery eyes. "Doubled."

There. That, right there, was the secret that joined all of these children together. It was also what had compelled Will and George to volunteer for the group in the first place. This commonality wasn't painted on signs or tee shirts, but it set these kids apart. This club consisted of fun activities for children who'd lost one or both parents. The ages ranged from five to eighteen, and they met once a month. Will and George had been members of the kids club as teens. Now as adults, they were volunteers.

"Well, that memory has to bring us luck, doesn't it?" Will helped the child to her feet. "Go on, Kate. Show me how it's done."

"Sometimes it's easier with someone holding your hand, as well," another voice added. "I think I can help with that, if you'd like?”

Will never enjoyed lacking the upper hand. Suddenly his palms felt damp.

Elizabeth Bennet was skating towards him, arms folded. The Irish woman's dark hair was braided off her face. Her green eyes inspected him. He tried not to show how elegant she looked, so at ease in a sport where strength and grace met.

"Mr. Darcy," Katie questioned, "is she your wife?"

Elizabeth's inquisitive eyes danced.

"Wife? And last time we met, people were just mistaking you for my boyfriend. It's a good thing my father isn't hearing any of these rumors." She moved forward to extend her hand to Katie, along with a warm smile. "It's grand to meet you, Katie. And no, I'm not Mr. Darcy's wife. But I'd like to be your friend, if that's okay?"

"Sure! Can you and Mr. Darcy can skate behind me?"

"I think we can manage that." She set a slow pace skating behind the child. It didn't take long for her to glance over at Will.

"Emma talked me into coming,” she said, preempting his question.

"I'm surprised, to say the least. The last time we talked, you told me to leave you alone.”

"Yeah, that makes two of us. Going up to you and having a bit of a chat isn't what I thought I'd be doing either, but I like kids. I saw you with this one and I thought...maybe I could help." There was an awkward pause, before Elizabeth ventured, "you have a soft spot in that heart of yours for children, do you? Until five seconds ago, I thought you were mean to absolutely everyone in Great Britain."

"I think that I could handle both sides of the Atlantic if I tried." He glanced over at her. "We Darcys are ambitious."

"I'll bet," Elizabeth laughed. The fact that this was the second conversation he'd managed to make her laugh in surprised Elizabeth herself more than anyone. "Maybe we can extend the list to the whole western hemisphere."

"Now you're talking like a Darcy.” His fingers dragged through his hair. The gesture distracted her. Instead of staring, she focused on the opposite end of the rink.

Anne was skating with her nephews. Surely Will must have noticed Anne. Maybe he wasn't going to be as uptight about Anne fraternizing with Frederick as she had assumed. This further lightened her mood.

"If you're nice to children and animals, I guess that means you can't be completely awful," she added with a light tease. "Are you nice to animals?"

"I had a favorite horse as a kid. I think at age eight I spoke to it more than I spoke to my parents."

"Truly?" Elizabeth laughed again. "A horse. Wow, what a job that must have been. My parents have a dog.”

“What type?”

“Oh, he's a true mutt, that one. I was blessed to get a goldfish at a church bazaar as a child. My mum thought it'd live a week. She cursed it for months every time I forgot to clean its bowl. Now I find joy in the irony of it...a fisherman's daughter devoted to keeping a ten pence goldfish alive."

He couldn't keep himself from laughing. It was a humor that Will, too, appreciated; ironic and self-deprecating.

"Look, Elizabeth, I know I didn't make the best first impression..." Will said. She halted her skating and looked up at him. He found himself distracted once again by her eyes. Long black lashes. Gorgeous, inquisitive eyes. He found he could read most people in a matter of moments. He couldn't read her. "I told Katie if you don't get something right the first time, you should try until you manage it. Can we have an honest conversation?”

Her mouth quirked. “How honest?”

“Brutally so, if it needs to be. Is this where you say this ice rink isn't big enough for both of us?”

“I don't know. What you said about Anne and Fred... ” her mouth pursed, “it's just—do I go to your workplace and give you orders?

“For what it's worth, I went to your work place with the intention of apologizing. The comment about Anne and Fred was a request, not an order.”

“Requests and orders sound remarkably similar coming from you, Will.”

Will knew he probably shouldn't grin; she'd think he was baiting her. He couldn't help it, though. Rare was the soul who had the courage to argue with him. Was it odd to admit that he enjoyed it? “Point taken. How's this for honesty, Miss Bennet: I may give a request, but I admit you're free not to take it.”

Confusion flitted across her face. Again, he'd become a puzzle in her eyes. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, a small child cried out.

Marco Musgrove had fallen and broken his leg.



Chapter 7

A chance late night encounter at a chip stand had been Fred's only glimpse of Anne. He'd barely heard her speak that night. The light had been dim, with only the street lamp to reveal her.

He wasn't unaffected by her, though. Far from it. He'd noticed her at the skating rink, almost from the minute she'd entered. Definitely before she'd realized he was there. But she'd been far off, obscured behind a cup of steaming tea, hiding next to Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse.

Now, in the sterile light of the hospital's emergency room, there was nowhere to hide. Never one for adornment or fuss, Anne wore a simple white turtleneck and a pair of jeans. Her cheeks were more sharply defined than he remembered, and with less of a blush. Her figure was much slighter and her hair was pulled back in a practical bun, not falling down past her shoulders as it had in their youth.

But her eyes were still dark and limitless; their depths conveyed a caring, generous, soulful woman. As the little boy cried out in pain and fear, her lips softened with loving concern and her mouth, ever generous, whispered words of comfort and love to him.

She's still beautiful, Frederick thought with a sudden stab of pain.

It was obvious this little boy, Marco was his name, loved her.

Was it possible that Marco and the other small boy at the rink were her sons? He'd wondered it at the rink, and her reaction to Marco's injury had added credence to the theory. The idea troubled him. Fred had barely said a word to her the entire drive over to the hospital.

What a fool he'd been, allowing hope to creep into his heart after seeing her at the chip stand. They had been apart for eight years. The coming summer would mark nine years. Eight and a half years...that was long enough for her to have two children. And just because she had said no to his proposal didn't mean she hadn't accepted another man's proposal, perhaps even soon afterward. So much for constancy, he thought bitterly.

Likewise, just because he'd returned the night of the ballet to an empty flat, didn't mean she had done the same. Maybe these were the children she had returned to, with a husband to greet her. What a fool he was to assume otherwise.

Shock, a wretched stab of jealously, and a sudden burst of anger were impossible to ignore. They'd been apart for so long, he'd long ago reconciled himself to his hurt, his anger, his disappointment, his broken heart, and yet this loss of hope wrenched at him. She had always liked children, why wouldn't she have a life of her own now, whatever that life was? Why was he so jealous, so angry? Just the thought of her loving another man, giving herself to him fully, making a family with him as a grown woman, made him sick with jealousy and regret. Why?

Of course her husband, lover, boyfriend, whoever this man was, would have a stamp of approval from her parents. He would be rich, Frederick thought bitterly. Perhaps he is the son of a lord or politician; someone with a name, a lineage and an inheritance. Someone who could provide for her in the manner in which they expected an Elliot daughter to live. An Eton boy, one who would go on to be an Oxbridge man.

The Elliots had never approved of their daughter consorting with a penniless boy from Hackney, East London, no matter what his goals or what he wanted to make of himself. Their disapproval of him hadn't hurt him as much as her absence in his life had, but it was a close second in terms of festering wounds.

As for these two boys, they were lively children, but somehow much less disciplined than how he would expect her children to be, for all that she kept trying to rein them in. And for all the vague similarities in facial features, he realized, they weren't how he had pictured her children. And yes, Frederick had contemplated them. No one, no matter how young, could give a proper proposal without fantasizing about the future. He had imagined a son, dark haired like Anne, but with Frederick's love of the sea. He would have taught that boy to swim, to fish, to sail. And a daughter. Dark haired or perhaps blond like he was. A little girl with Anne's smile.

Those fantasies had been dashed long ago, Frederick reminded himself. They had been foolish, boyhood daydreams, not grounded in reality. This was apparently their reality now.

In the wake of the accident, George Knightley had rushed to the boy's side. The little boy had been shivering, more in shock than actual cold, and it was Frederick who'd tugged off his jacket and draped it around the boy's tiny shoulders.

"Can you feel my hand, Marco? Do you feel pressure or pain when I press here? Or here?" Knightley touched gingerly at the boy's leg, testing nerve endings, checking for swelling.

"Marco, corazon," Anne told the child, "hold my hand."

Hearing the term of endearment spoken, Frederick--who had been deliberately looking at everyone but Anne-- he couldn't help himself. He'd looked up, just in time to see her do the same. It had been a long time since he'd heard that word and the instant it was out of her mouth, he was seventeen again.

Te amo, corazon. That phrase that she'd told him once reverberated in his memory, and stung him when he looked at her. If she felt his gaze, she gave no indication of it. Instead, she remained firmly focused on Marco.

"How bad is it, George?" Will had asked.

"He'll need x-rays to confirm it, but based on what I'm feeling, it's just a green stick fracture..." Because he was the only person in the room who understood the phrase, he explained further. "It's common in children because their bones are soft. There's no external injury. There's swelling, but the nerve endings appear intact. St Bart's is just blocks away. I'll need to do a preliminary stabilization with a wrap and a brace, and ice to reduce swelling, but I think it's faster if we transport him ourselves."

"Can I fetch you anything?" Elizabeth questioned.

"There's an emergency medical kit in the back seat of my car. It's a blue Audi, parked at the far end of the car park. Bring it to me, would you?" Knightley dug into his pocket, pulling out a set of car keys, tossing them to her. Elizabeth caught the keys one-handed and gave him an efficient nod.

"Consider it done."

"Emma," Knightley had continued, "could you call ahead to let the ER know Marco is arriving?"

"Of course," said Emma, who was already breaking out her mobile phone. A lifetime of knowing George Knightley allowed her more than a little insight into the way he thought. Once she completed the call, her mind sprung to action. As Elizabeth returned with Knightley's medical kit, Emma spoke up.

"Fred, would you mind taking Anne and Marco to the hospital? Will and Lizzie can watch Diego and meet you there. Knightley and I can stay here and make sure all the other children get home safely."


There had been a bit of wrangling about the car arrangements, but in the end it was Emma who prevailed.

And so here he was, standing opposite Anne in an emergency room, waiting for a doctor to arrive while Marco sniffled miserably. "Tia, could you come with me when they take pictures of my leg, like Dr. Knightley said?"

"If they let me, corazon."

Tia. It was the first time Marco had called her that. Another word for mother? Frederick was trying to wrack his tired brain to remember what 'tia' meant in Spanish as the dividing curtain was brushed aside and the doctor entered.

A nurse had already injected a mild sedative, and the little boy's eyes were starting to droop as he looked around the room, pointing and inquiring, "Tia, what's that? What's that, Tia?"

Finally, his bleary eyes looked up to Frederick, truly noticing him for the first time.

"Tia, who's that?"

"My name's Frederick Wentworth. You can call me Fred."

"Are you a doctor, like Dr. Knightley?"

"I'm afraid not, buddy. But I am a captain. I get to go to faraway places and meet loads of people from all around the world."

"Captain? Frederick, I---" Anne spoke up with a sudden and uncharacteristic lack of caution. Their eyes met again, and she blushed scarlet. She had no idea he'd been promoted. "Congratulations."

Frederick allowed himself a tight smile. "It was hard earned, believe me."

"I do," she whispered back, holding his gaze for just a moment longer than was necessary, before looking down.

"Captain!" Marco chirped, breaking the moment, "have you seen any mermaids?"

"If I do, you'll be the first to know, I promise," Frederick said with a wink.

"Marco, is it?" said the doctor, flipping open his chart and pulling out a pen. "I'm Dr. Andrews. Looks like we had a bit of an accident today."

"Diego pushed me, and I fell," Marco sniffed.

"We were at the ice rink," Anne explained, "a friend braced his leg for transport."

"Quite expertly, I see," said Dr. Andrews, pulling up a stool and undoing the bindings. "From his medical forms, I take it you're the person who signed for his entrance into the hospital. Which would make you Anne Elliot, Marco's," his gaze shifted to the paperwork beside him, "...aunt?"

"Tia!" Marco blurted out.

"Wait. Wait--" interrupted Frederick, "his aunt? You're his aunt?"

"Yes, I'm his aunt," Anne said with a curious inflection, glancing at Frederick with arched brows. "His mother is my younger sister, Maria. She's Maria Musgrove now, married to Charles Musgrove. You remember Maria, don't you?"

Musgrove. It was the same last name as Louisa's. Louisa hadn't seemed to recognize Anne at the ballet, though, nor had Anne recognized her, so he supposed the fact that they had relatives that shared a last name seemed only a coincidence. A very distant cousin, perhaps.

"I--" Frederick put a hand to his temple, mind reeling. Maria was Marco's mother. He remembered Anne's sisters with sudden clarity. Pretty, imperial Elisabetta, the oldest sister. Anne was in the middle. Maria, needy and childish, was the youngest.

While Anne and the doctor talked about Marco's injuries and treatment, Frederick leaned against the wall. Aunt. His aunt. That was what 'tia' meant in Spanish. No wonder there was a resemblance. She was their aunt. She didn't have children.

"Frederick?"

Even hearing her say his name hurt, he realized as he pushed off the wall and stood to attention. It was the same. The way she said his name was the same. Why did he think it would sound different? But her voice was just as sweet and soft as he'd remembered it.

"Yes, what is it?" he questioned, more severely than he'd intended, probably because the emotions she'd stirred in him were more raw than he wanted. Hesitation flitted across her face.

"I--I just wanted to say thank you. They've taken Marco for x-rays, and to get fitted for a cast. He'll be there quite awhile and...and you can leave, if you'd like to. Maria and Charles will be here soon enough."

"Yes, and how is your family, Anne?" Frederick questioned, completely skirting the bulk of her comments. "Happy?"

Anne flinched. The barb was obvious.

"Not particularly," Anne admitted with quiet candor. Emma would flirt her answer. Elizabeth would tease it. But Anne? Her answers were entirely candid. She ventured delicately, "And your family? How are they?"

Frederick took a step towards her, and then another, until he was close enough to hear her ragged intake of her breath. He leaned in, almost as if he were about to kiss her.

"Proud of me," Frederick answered with a piercing look.

The answer was sharp, to match his mood, and still there was danger in it. There was a time when they never would have stood this close without desire kicking in. She remembered it, and wondered if he did as well. Something radiated from him that could sweep her up or crush her if she let it, and she wanted to give into it, to give into him, to try to fix what had gone wrong, to be his again....

"Anne!" a shrill voice called. "Anne! Where are you? Where's Diego? Marco?! I only get one day free. I can't believe I have to miss my restorative facial. Where's Marco?"

Anne jerked back, stumbling awkwardly against the exam table.

"It's my sister, Maria. I have to go. Maria needs me."

It was Anne who walked away first, just like before. Frustration, sorrow, regret, resentment, and heaven help him, longing, all coursed through him in her wake. He pulled out his car keys. He was late for his date with Louisa.

**



Tension entered Elizabeth the moment that she stepped into the hospital. It didn't matter that her worst memories weren't connected to this hospital. The reaction was instinctive, like the steps of a ballet. The experiences were inside her now, muscle memory.

She told herself she wasn't here to live through her own past. She was here to help Anne. At the moment, helping Anne meant keeping an eye on Diego Musgrove.

Will had more kindness in him than she could have guessed. He'd helped her take care of Diego for the better part of an afternoon at the hospital, which was no small feat. In fact, it had been Will's idea to draw a tic-tac-toe board on a newspaper to entertain the boy. Diego was enraptured with the game and with Will. They'd sat on the waiting room floor with Diego, playing for the length of an hour.

At last, the inevitable happened: the day's tumult finally caught up with Diego. He crawled into the chair beside Elizabeth, his head tucked against her arm.

“Want to take a break?” she whispered to Will. “I'll stay with the boy.”

“Fine. I'll find George, see if I can get an update on when the boy's mother will arrive.”

Elizabeth watched him tug off his sweatshirt. He sported a gray t-shirt. She could see the lines of his back beneath it. The action of taking his sweatshirt off, and the movement of lean muscle and strong bones, distracted her. Will had an incredible back, and gorgeous shoulders. She'd been around a lot of beautifully built men in her ballet career. Will's body was the product of sports that required tougher energy than ballet. His body was stronger. Harder.

“Does that sound good to you?” Will's serious gaze landed on her.

Uh oh. Was there a question in there somewhere? A blush dusted her cheeks.

“Um...” she hesitated, unwilling to admit to him where her mind had wandered. Whatever else she thought of him, she mostly trusted his sense of logic. “Sure.”

Will strode from the waiting room, presumably to find George or Fred. Diego continued to doze beside her.

Memories kept flitting through her mind.

This will only sting a little.

And..

Tomorrow, perhaps, the doctor will let you in the play room.

The worst one of all was: You'll feel stronger tomorrow. I promise.

She'd grown to distrust promises in the same way she distrusted her own body.

She remembered Aunt Moira and Uncle Ronans visits. She remembered fumbling, grasping between monitor cords and IVs to find the button that would lift her bed up.

The sight of their active niece reduced to an engineered bed—made Moira's eyes water.

“Here, Luvie, let me.” Ronan fumbled with the controller, boosting her. “We sure are happy to see you.”

She smiled and said nothing. Moira placed her gift in her hands.

The box was a dark, midnight blue velvet. For that alone, she loved it. It reminded her of a Christmas sky. It was the first beautiful thing she'd touched in weeks. Only a box. But she loved it.

Carefully, she cracked the box open.

Inside, resting on a soft satin pillow, were a pair of dainty red rubies. Small, but still enough to overwhelm a little girl's ears. They were grown-up earrings. A gift for the adult she would one day be.

Beneath the earrings was a ruby cross. Sweet and understated. A symbol, just as that boy had been, that she wasn't the only one to suffer.

“You like it?” Aunt Moira asked.

Her fingers wrapped protectively around the jewelry, as if clutching a secret close. At last, she found the strength to rasp her answer. “I love it.”


When Will returned, he was carrying two soda cans. He settled next to her, handing her one.

“Thanks,” she whispered. A drink. That was thoughtful. Perhaps this had been the question he'd asked of her.

Will nodded. “You're welcome.”

“Any word on Anne's sister?”

Will's nod was short. “She's going to take both boys home. She'll stay at her sister's home for the night to watch the boys. Maria and Charles are busy attending a concert.”

Elizabeth's laugh was incredulous. "Their son just broke his leg. How can they think of wandering off at all hours to do as they please?"

“The truth?” Will cracked his soda can open. His low voice didn't lift above a whisper. “I've known Maria Musgrove---Elliot, once---for a long time. That decision isn't out of character for her. I expect Anne anticipated it, too.”

Will's words sunk in. Hadn't she snapped at him for claiming he had personal knowledge of the Elliot family? And yet his insight, in this one instance, seemed sound.

Elizabeth shifted in her chair. “Um...how much do I owe you for the drink?”

A laugh rumbled out of Will. It drew her gaze back to him. It wasn't as hard to make him laugh as she'd guessed it would be. The fact that she liked the sound disconcerted her. "Forget it."

“Oh,” a playful lilt entered Elizabeth's voice, “the vending machines that you go to are free, are they?”

He shot her a grin. “The drink's on me, Elizabeth.”

Her mouth pressed tight as she pondered her answer.

“Well, you guessed right. I don't have fizzy drinks often, but this is the one I would choose. Do you want anything in return? Bar of chocolate? Bag of crisps?”

“No.” Will shook his head. “If we're here any longer, though, I'll have to start thinking about dinner.”

She nodded. Her rumbling stomach could agree with that prospect.

More time passed. She caught herself studying Will for long stretches. Occasionally he kneaded his shoulder, as if prolonged stillness bothered the joints. An old sports injury? Or something more recent?

Eventually, Anne returned and retrieved sleepy Diego. Marco would be discharged, she told them. She was taking the boys home to the Musgrove's West Brompton house.

“And Fred?” Will asked, reaching for his sweatshirt.

“Gone,” Anne said, “and Emma and Knightley, too.”

This, coincidentally, also left Elizabeth only one option when it came to getting home: Will Darcy. Which, Elizabeth suspected, was what Emma had desired when she suggested this little arrangement.

After Anne departed, Will Darcy dug into his pocket and pulled out a set of silver keys and offered her a ride home. It had started to rain again, a dreary downpour that coated all of London in icy misery.

“If you want,” the keys jingled in his hand, “I know we're both hungry. Would you feel like joining me for dinner at my flat?”

Much to her own shock, it was goodwill that prompted her to agree.

His vehicle was a sleek black roadster. A single man's car, she decided. There was only room enough for two inside of it. It was the type of car her brothers would envy, with a convertible top and a snug interior that left just enough space for a driver to embrace whomever rode beside him.

Will didn't touch her. In fact, he barely looked at her. He kept both hands on the wheel and guided them through icy London streets. Instead of turning east to King's Cross, he turned toward Mayfair. They slowed at a tall, elegant structure. The Montgomery Victoria. She wondered briefly what it would be like to live in a building with its own double-barrel name. Wealthy people loved buildings with names.

The grand facade and gold marquee made it look more like a hotel than an apartment building. The revolving door was manned by two uniformed doormen.

Will parked the roadster in the building's ground level car park, then led her to the building's lift. They had to stop briefly at the first floor, he told her. Will needed to grab his mail for the day. There were orchids at the concierge desk.

He has a concierge?

Even the lifts here looked expensive, she noted, paneled with mirrors, and an automated operator voice that spoke from an intercom. Will was on the ninth floor.

There were no antiques oak tables, or horsehair couches. The furniture was youthful, and decidedly modern. Sunlight streamed through the windows, illuminating masculine furniture with clean lines and sleek details.

"No pets?" she asked as she entered.

"There's a no-horses clause in my contract."

"Tragic."

He gave her a rare grin. "I think so. Want a drink?"

A drink. It might be a bad idea. It also might help take the edge off her nerves. “Please,” she confirmed.

"Red or white wine?"

"Neither," she answered, rubbing her cold arms. "A whiskey if you have it."

"Whiskey,” he knelt down, searching through his liquor cabinet. “Hard to please, Elizabeth?"

"Just sure of what I want," she responded lightly. She watched him reach into a cabinet and pull out a bottle of prize whiskey and two glasses.

"And what's that?" he questioned, handing her a glass.

"To be true to myself," she answered simply, watching him fill up her glass, and then his own. "Isn't that what everyone wants?"

"It takes a strength that few people have.”

She saw a small kitchen, and a living room. He had a flat screen television; she was honest enough to admit wondering which channel she'd find it switched to if she turned it on. Quite a few of the items here were voice or motion activated, which amused her. The sinks were motion sensor activated. The lights in the kitchen could be turned on with a voice request.

The space was spotless. Will was either the world's cleanest cook or he mostly dined out. There were also books scattered through the apartment. They were varied and erudite. And unexpected.

“Declamationes Majores, by Marcus Fabius Quintilianus,” she whispered one title aloud.

The famed rhetorician. She was resisting the impulse to pick it up and flip through its pages. Resisting, but only just barely. On the second floor of her family's stone farmhouse, her father had a library filled with books. Most of them were collectables, passed down from father to son for the last four generations. In her periods of convalescence, she'd read a large chunk of library's contents, including parts of the Institutio Oratoria by Quintilian. But she'd never read this book. She'd never even heard of it.

"So, what do you like to eat?" Will swung open the fridge.

"Can I help?" she piped up, walking toward him so that she could examine the contents of the fridge herself. "It's the least I can do. You saved me from being stranded, waiting for a taxi in the middle of an ice storm."

"Next time I should let you walk it, you think?"

"I could handle it." Elizabeth raised one slight arm and flexed comically. "Muscles for days, you see?"

He glanced at her again, giving her a proper once over. Dark tendrils, loose from her braid, were trailing her neck. She was a petite woman, but beautifully proportioned, with sweetly feminine curves. He was close enough to notice the heat her body gave off. If she stepped just a little closer, nestling herself against him, he'd learn what each of those curves felt like against his body.

“I, uh--” Will cleared his throat, suddenly dizzy. He couldn't remember ever feeling such a strong craving for anyone. "It's—there might be---something in the freezer?”

Amusement flitted across her face. “The freezer?”

“Yeah. We could—de-ice the chicken?"

Elizabeth laughed. “I think it's a little too cold for that.”

She knelt down to inspect the fridge's lower shelves. Eggs, orange juice and a bottle of vodka. A bachelor pad, indeed. "How about omelets?"

"You'd be okay with omelets?"

"Of course. It's the breakfast of champions," Elizabeth answered. "I hear it makes a pretty fine dinner, too."

"How about we throw in some tomatoes?"

"Hmm," her eyes narrowed in mock-disapproval at this suggestion, "and olives and cheese?"

He bit his lower lip to keep from grinning. "Deal."

Once they'd managed cooking the omelets, they settled themselves on the couch and dug in. Even Elizabeth was surprised how comfortable she was just sitting and chatting with him as the rainy evening shifted into night.

"Is this how you spend most of your Saturdays?" she questioned as she took a bite of her omelet. "Alone in a peaceful flat?"

"You think it's peaceful?"

Elizabeth laughed. "You haven't seen where I live. The neighbors are noisy as anything, and the hallways are poky. The roof leaks after a fierce storm, and half of London could break into our flat through the fire escape if they felt like a wee climb. It's the best I could afford, though. I've never been in a flat this nice. It's heaven."

Will silently corrected that the conditions were greatly improved by her presence there with him, curled up like a kitten on his couch.

"And Emma doesn't mind living there?" he questioned instead.

"Since she stopped modeling she's trying to scale back, I think. She slips occasionally and uses her father's money for meals and things, but I don't think she minds living in a place where the rent is so low. I think it was a bit of a laugh for her at first, though. Like camping. Her own little rebellion."

"Did you camp much growing up?"

"Oh, I'm a culchie through and through." Seeing his blank confusion at the Irish term, she set down her plate on the nearby table and turned. "A country girl. We live on an island off the coast of Cork. I have four brothers. They were always wandering about in the summer, camping and fishing." She rested her chin on her palm and flashed him a curious look. "Do you have brothers and sisters, then?"

"One sister. Georgiana."

From the small smile that emerged as he said this and the way his tone softened, she instantly sensed they were close. Just one sibling, and his family with all that money, or so she could only infer after seeing his car, his flat, his wardrobe. What in the world did a family do with all that money, if not spend it on a bunch of children? A household of five children was a financial challenge indeed. The Bennets had a fine home, perhaps the loveliest on the island of Ballydeirc, but her mother had always been balancing her checkbook and resewing her torn jeans.

Just one sibling sounded lonely to her.

Will's mind was drifting in another direction altogether. "Four brothers, huh?"

"Liam, Magnus, Kilian, and Seamus. They're protective as the day is long, but they're four of my best friends. I'm a lucky girl."

She obviously adores them, he thought. There were few traits that he found as attractive as family loyalty. And yet, the thought of four brothers daunted him. He rattled the names off in his head. Liam, Magnus, Kilian, Seamus. They sounded like a group of fierce Irish warriors, ready to tear him apart for even one of the thoughts seemed to drift swiftly through his head when he was around Elizabeth

"It's a miracle I grew up wanting to be a ballerina and not a football player like the rest of them." Elizabeth flexed one foot, rotating her ankle. It was a nervous habit, he realized, not a demonstration. “I heard you tell Katie you play football?”

“Like the best of 'em."

“Confident.”

“Earned confidence,” he assured her.

Her green eyes flashed with pleasure at the answer. "Fancy meeting me on the pitch come springtime?"

"If you think you can keep up."

She tilted her head to look up at him. The comment was an undeniable dare. Elizabeth laughed. "You've got yourself a match, Will Darcy."



**



While Elizabeth was having an unexpected dinner at Will Darcy's flat, George Knightley was eating in at Emma's. It was Knightley who cooked a quick, tasty Mediterranean meal. Emma volunteered for clean up duty. Night shift would take him away from her soon. He was scheduled for the 10:00 PM to 10:00 AM slot.

"So for Friday," she questioned, "do you want 'normal Emma,' or 'dressy Emma'?"

George wasn't listening. He'd strolled to the edge of the living room and pulled back the romantic bit of drapery Emma had used to cover the broad windows in order to check that the broad window out to the fire escape was secure from "Peeping Toms".

When he walked back to her little kitchenette, he could only manage, "Hmm?"

She gave him a teasing little smile, throwing her dish towel over her right shoulder.

"Everything locked and in place?" Emma asked. “You checked the lock leading to the fire escape, didn't you?”

"Yes," Knightley said firmly. The fire escape was of particular concern, especially because Emma in her more romantic moods occasionally opened it in order to let the air mix with whatever incense candle she decided to burn.

She sighed, turning off the sink water. "I know it's not Notting Hill, but it's also not such a terrible neighborhood. I moved here because I wanted to spend time with my friends, but now I think I'm lucky the way things ended up. I'm not making any money, I don't have a job, and it's very affordable."

"You have seen where you live, right?" Working in a hospital, caring for crime victims nightly, caused all his safety fears to surface. "Do you think your father would like this place?"

"That's not a fair question, and you know it. Daddy's only convinced I'm safe if I'm living at Hartfield, with him. Maybe the Ritz-Carlton would be okay in a pinch. I'm fine. If Anne and Lizzie aren't worried about it, why should I be?"

"Because I'm worried."

He always knew how to hit right at the heart of the matter. That honest truth, and his dark eyes, cut to her core every time.

"I'll check the window every night before I go to bed, I promise.”

This, she decided, was perhaps the worst part of being in love, the fear of losing that person. She had her share of worries over his well being, too. Their fingers intertwined. Emma allowed herself a comforting inhale of his cologne before she deliberately shifted topics.

"So about this date Friday...where are we going?"

She heard him chuckle. "It's a surprise. Don't you like surprises?"

"Depends."

"You won't need to wear your trainers, if that's what you're after."

"Fancy dress?" She perked up. "That's wonderful, because I have a killer outfit that I've been saving for a special occasion."

"Nice. Killer might not be necessary unless you feel like stopping traffic." Knightley warned with a grin. "Besides, I like you like you in this."

"Grey track pants,” she leaned into him, “a blue tee shirt, and a dish towel over my shoulder?"

"Especially the dish towel," he whispered in her ear. Her lips tipped up, mouth brushing his. A brisk knock came on the door.

"Oh.” She drew back. “That might be Lizzie without her keys."

Knightley frowned. "You practically shoved her and Will into a car together."

"They didn't protest. Too much." Emma's mouth twisted with sudden guilt. “Hopefully she's still with Will.”

"Emma--" Knightley warned.

“He'll keep her safe, won't he?”

“Yes, but-”

“And they should learn more about each other. They're like two mules butting heads, I swear.” Instead of defending herself further, she quickly undid the latched lock and swung the door open.

The man who stood in the hallway, with golden curls and a rakish smile, had raised his hand to knock again. When he saw Emma in front of him, however, the hand fell down to his side and the rakish smile became a grin.

“Hello, beauty.” He let out a low whistle. "Sexy as always, aren't you?"

“Henry Crawford.” Emma sighed. Henry was one of the most unrepentant flirts she'd ever met in her life. "What in the world are you doing in London?"

Henry put a hand on the door post, leaning against it as he eyed her up and down. "I need a reason to visit an old friend?”

“Not a friend. A business associate.”

“An old, friendly business associate. What are you doing in the slums of London, Woodhouse? I expected more of the daughter of Royce Woodhouse."

"Just because it's not Delshire Grand, that doesn't make it a slum. I live here, Henry. And who gave you my address? I'm not modeling anymore, in case you haven't heard. Elect dropped me. If you have a business proposal, you can contact my agent."

Henry's wide mouth tugged into a frown. “Babe, you act like we're strangers. I've missed you. You live here now, and I'm here on business...why wouldn't I stop by? Who gave you the grand tour of Tijuana when you needed one? Who picked you up from the airport in Turks and Caicos so you wouldn't be late for the Ralph Laurant shoot? Who photographed you swimming naked in the Aegean sea? That picture landed you in En Face magazine.”

“I wasn't naked,” Emma countered quickly. She swung around to check Knightley's reaction. “I wasn't naked. It was...the illusion of total nudity.”

“Damned close to it,” Henry interjected. “There's an art to it.”

"Emma doesn't need your brand of artistry," George Knightley spoke up behind Emma.

The palm that propped Henry against the doorpost slid rapidly from its place, causing the golden-haired man to falter.

"Who are you, her brother?"

"Boyfriend," Knightley answered coolly. "And you are?"

"Henry," Emma interrupted with deliberate tact, looking from one man to the next. "A very famous photographer. Henry and I have worked together a few times. Henry, this is Dr. George Knightley. And yes, Henry, George is my boyfriend."

"No kidding." Henry straightened up further, fixing his collar.

"Crawford." Knightley repeated, resting his hand on Emma's shoulder as he took the other man's measure. "Any relation to Marlena Crawford?"

"Marlena is my sister," Henry answered. "Anyway, Emma, about the potential contract--"

"I told you that I'm not contracted with Elect anymore," Emma repeated. "In fact, I'm giving modeling up altogether."

"Not even for De Bourgh Jewelry?"

De Bourgh Jewelry? De Bourgh was America's finest jewelry house, with two hundred years of prestige to its name. Currently their pieces were designed by up-and-coming ingénue, heiress Andromeda Yang-De Bourgh. Modeling for De Bourgh wouldn't just resurrect her career, it could put her back on top.

Her eyes narrowed. "What about De Bourgh?"

"I've been interfacing with their public relations team. They want a hot, young face to front their new campaign."

"Just the face, or full body shots?"

"You, covered in diamonds, Emme, splashed across billboards and store fronts all over the world. Full body. Why else do you think I thought of you? You're the whole package, Emme."

Emma shook her head decisively, "Unless Andromeda de Bourgh calls me herself and asks me, I'm not interested."

"You haven't heard the contract price. Three million pounds."

Three million pounds? It was a ridiculous amount of money for a handful of photographs. Laughable, even.

“Maybe money doesn't matter to the daughter of Royce Woodhouse,” Henry continued, “but the rest of us would struggle to walk away from it. Elect might not want you anymore, Emma, but that doesn't mean the industry's forgotten you.”

After Henry left, she shut the door behind him. She could feel George's gaze on her. For Emma's part, she couldn't manage conversation yet.

Phrases from their conversation echoed in her mind.

”I wasn't naked. It was...the illusion of total nudity.”

“Damned close to it. There's an art to it.”

Both those statements had been true. She hadn't been photographed completely naked in the Aegean scene, but she'd gotten as close to it as possible. She started filling up the sink again, throwing in soap with the water.

Three million pounds. She had made a tidy sum modeling, but nothing compared to that. She wouldn't have to rely on her oil baron father's money any longer. She could invest the funds, go to university, or maybe open a business. Did she want to open a business?

"No small offer, is it?" Knightley questioned quietly, filling in the silence of her thoughts. "De Bourgh Jewelry and three million pounds."

The dishes clanked. She turned to him, up to her arms in bubbles. "I don't care. I don't. The money doesn't matter. I don't want to go back to modeling. But it's the only thing I know I'm good at and--" Emma inhaled sharply, suddenly so confused she could barely think straight. "--three million pounds is an absurd amount of money. Elect has decided my modeling days are done. Why would anyone want to pay that much money for me?"

"Because they know you're worth it. But if you're worried about money, Emma, you shouldn't be, not just because of your father but...” George rubbed the back of his neck, “because of me.”

One day he would marry her. One day he would make her his wife, he had decided that a long time ago and while it was too soon to mention it now, he had the means to take care of her.

“I'm not some kept woman,” Emma shot back.

“Woah.” George's hands went up. “That's not what I meant.”

She tossed the towel down. “And Henry's wrong, I won't get naked for cash.”

“I never said you would.” His hands remained in view as he stepped closer to her. Hell, thought George. This wasn't where he imagined this conversation going at all. “Emma, I love you. We're a team. That's all I'm saying.”

"I'm sorry.” She ran one shaking hand through her hair. “I love you, too. Henry rattled me, that's all.”

“I know that,” he said softly.

“As for Daddy's money, I take what I need from him, but it's high time I started making my own way in the world."

"Do you want the job?"

She shrugged one shoulder. “I definitely don't love the idea of working with Henry Crawford again. But if Andromeda Yang-De Bourgh called me and wanted me to model for De Bourgh...I would consider it."

"You know Andie's a relative of Will's right?" Seeing Emma's quizzical expression, he explained further. "Andromeda. Andie. That's his cousin—sort of. Step-cousin, actually. Andie's father and Will's aunt were married. I've met her a few times.”

Curiosity glimmered in her eyes. “What'd you think of her?”

“Elegant. Creative. Fiercely intelligent.”

Her mouth twisted. He caught the jealous glimmer in her eyes. You're really putting your foot in it tonight, George, he thought.

“All traits I'd ascribe to you in spades,” George assured her. “I think you'd like her, Emme. That's a lot more than I can say about Crawford.”

“Does it bother you,” she whispered, “the way he's photographed me?”

"It's not---I wouldn't---Emma, it's not...”

George, never tongue-tied, felt himself tripping over his own words. Careful, he thought. Had he ever considered it his place to dictate what she should or shouldn't do in the course of her modeling career? Nope. Did he love the idea of her swimming nearly naked in the Aegean with Henry Crawford there to photograph her?

Hell no, thought George.

“Emma,” he said at last, “there was a time in my life when most of my mates at university had posters of you in their lockers, or on their bedroom walls.”

She bit her lower lip. “How did that make you feel?”

“Protective. Angry, depending on what they said about you. I tried to tell myself the photos were your job, nothing more than that, but...it was always going to be complicated for me.”

“I knew it would be for you. It is for me too,” she whispered. “Half the world thinks they've seen me naked.”

He leaned in, kissing her temple. “The illusion of nudity.” George's fingers, warm and strong, traced her cheek. “An illusion. Not you. They can't touch you. They don't know you. Not the flesh and blood you.” His breath warmed her skin. "You have soap bubbles in your hair.”

"Do I?" she whispered.

He nodded. Then he kissed her.

Emma melted. A current of need passed between them. She responded to it with her own desire, her own love, her fear, her frustration, her need. Her fingers raked down his neck as he tasted her, skin growing hot as his hands traveled to her waist, tightened around it, and then pulled her closer still.

Two things in tangent brought them back to reality: the rattle of a pair of keys outside, and the hiss of his beeper.

"Work." Knightley took a deep, unsteady breath, and then another. His hospital beeper, a stern task master, buzzed again. The E.R. needed him, and would brook no prolonged goodbyes. He pressed an unsteady kiss to her lips. "I have to go."

"I know," Emma answered, wishing she could cool her blushing cheeks. No goodbye felt sufficient. "I love you."

"I love you, too." One thumb lingered at her cheek. He couldn't help it. "I'll see you Friday?"

She managed an unsteady nod, just as the door opened. "Right. Friday."

"Good evening," Elizabeth greeted the pair with a curious lift in her voice. The charge in the room was obvious. George looked rattled. Lipstick colored the edge of his mouth. Emma's hair was mussed. "Having fun?"

Rather than offer much of an explanation, he simply gave her a brisk nod. "Elizabeth. Have a good night."

And that was as much of a goodbye as she got before he was out the door.

"Something sure got him keyed up," Elizabeth said as the door shut behind him.

Emma sighed and reached for another towel to finish her dishes. If he'd gotten keyed up, he wasn't the only one.
SubjectAuthorPosted

An Even Path: Post 4

BernadetteEJune 11, 2017 07:16AM

Re: An Even Path: Post 4

KarenteaJune 12, 2017 06:32AM

Archive Correction Request

BernadetteEJune 13, 2017 01:16AM



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