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Paws and Prejudice Chapters 5-8

March 09, 2019 06:56PM

Chapter 5: Rosings Park

February 13

As she looked up at the palatial estate before her, Elizabeth asked herself for the millionth time how she’d been roped into this mess. She supposed it was her fault for recruiting Charlotte into volunteering at the shelter with her. If she hadn’t done that, Charlotte wouldn’t have met the director of the shelter, William Collins. Even though the creep had persistently harassed Elizabeth for a date for months, refusing to take no for an answer, he’d done a 180 when Charlotte began volunteering there as well. Within a week Collins had transferred his affections to her friend and Charlotte had shown the incredibly poor taste to accept. After a month they were officially dating, and it only took another three months before they’d moved in together.

If not for this unfortunate introduction, Charlotte and Collins wouldn’t be dating, Collins would never have known that Elizabeth had worked her way through college at an event company planning and coordinating weddings and galas. He, therefore, never would have asked her to plan a charity ball and Charlotte never would have pulled in years worth of favors to trap her into doing it. She let out a beleaguered sigh as she walked towards the doors. At least it was for a good cause, it would benefit the animals, expand the capacity of the shelter, and improve the facilities.

"Miss Bennet, I simply must have a word with you about your appalling choices for the floral arrangements." Mrs. DeBurgh’s sharp voice cut through the still air. No matter what the cause, Elizabeth certainly never would have agreed to take part in this farce had she known who the principal patroness of the event was. By the time Collins had managed to secure funding and a location for the ball from Catherine DeBurgh, Elizabeth was already too far invested in the event to back out. For the past two months every other sentence from Collins included a reference to his magnanimous patroness.

Unsurprisingly, Mrs. DeBurgh’s ’expertise’ spanned to all aspects of the planning and execution of the ball, nothing was below her notice. Unfortunately, in spite of her wish to manage every detail, she had no desire to execute them and so Elizabeth was stuck orchestrating the event at the extreme supervision of Mrs. DeBurgh.

Three more days, Elizabeth reminded herself as she took a calming breath and turned to address her tormentor. As Mrs. DeBurgh droned on about the proper way of organizing a centerpiece, Elizabeth half listened as she tallied the remaining tasks. She’d had to take the day off of work and leave her dogs with her parents for the weekend so she could be on-site to help set up the event at Rosings, Mrs. DeBurgh’s massive country estate. The bulk of the setup – arranging furniture, constructing a dance floor, etc. – would happen today. Tomorrow morning would be consumed by coordinating with vendors – setting up the caterers, receiving shipments, distributing flowers, and the Gala would happen tomorrow evening. Sunday she would have to assist in deconstruction of the event space and cleanup, but she was determined to be done and on the road by noon. Due to Mrs. DeBurgh’s condescension, she’d already spent most of her free time for the past months on this event and she was anxious to get back home to her dogs.

A half hour and three tense phone calls to the florist later, Elizabeth slumped back against the wall of the courtyard cursing ’Lady’ Catherine for not insisting on these changes when she’d seen the plans weeks ago rather than saving her proclamations for the day before the event. Looking out across the frozen grounds of the estate she allowed the serenity of the scene to wash over her before her numb fingers required her to go inside and she returned to the fray.

She walked into the ballroom and was assaulted by the elegant, but overdone decorations that ’Lady’ Catherine had meticulously outlined. Mr. Colins had early thought of the idea of a Valentines theme because "pets are love, after all" – this nauseating scene happened in their living room while he was gazing fondly at Charlotte as she snuggled up with her pet ferret. Elizabeth had went along with the theme because the timeline would work out to hold the ball on Valentines weekend and it would help them attract an audience – more people would be willing to pay for the fancy benefit dinner if it would give them an elegant location for their annual formal dinner date.

She and Charlotte had just finished tallying the last minute RSVPs to send final numbers off to the caterers when the obsequious tones of Mr. Collins drew their attention to the doorway. Elizabeth was momentarily surprised to see Darcy and another man walking toward them as Mr. Collins followed in their wake before she remembered that Darcy was Catherine DeBurgh’s nephew. "I may thank you, Lizzy, for this piece of civility. Mr. tall dark and can’t peel his eyes off of you certainly isn’t headed this direction for my benefit." Charlotte whispered to her. Elizabeth barely had time to roll her eyes before the men arrived.

"Ms. Bennet, Charlotte," Mr. Collins said with an air of gravity, "allow me to introduce the nephews of our esteemed patroness, Mr. Darcy – CEO of Pemberley LLC – and Colonel Fitzwilliam, a distinguished military strategist. Gentlemen, allow me to present my other half, Charlotte, and Ms. Elizabeth Bennet."

The Colonel stepped forward and held out his hand, "Elizabeth, I’ve heard so much about you!" Elizabeth raised her eyebrow at Darcy, who had yet to open his mouth or shift his eyes from her.

"I wouldn’t believe everything you hear, Colonel."

"Oh, I’m sure it’s all true. Please call me Richard." They managed a couple of minutes of small talk – the substance of which came largely from Elizabeth and Richard with Mr. Collins attempting to break into monologues, Charlotte tactfully quieting him, and Darcy silently staring – before Catherine DeBurgh ordered Elizabeth and Charlotte to assemble the favor bags and fold napkins while she led her nephews off to ’rest’ from their ’long’ journey.

Chapter 6: Charity Case

Elizabeth sighed as she finally managed to sit down for five minutes by herself. To all outward appearances the ball was going smoothly although Elizabeth knew that it all came at the expense of her sanity. Catherine had found a continual string of ’emergencies’ that Elizabeth had to diffuse, she’d had to re-order the silent auction at the last minute because one of their sponsors had taken affront to their offering being displayed near a rival, she’d had to sort out a meal for a guest who had neglected to inform them ahead of time that they were both vegan and gluten free, she’d schmoozed with more rich people than she’d ever wanted to, and she’d had to dance twice with Mr. Collins. Now that dinner was over and people were mostly settled into drinking, dancing, and mingling Elizabeth finally had the time to catch her breath only to realize that dinner had long since been cleared and she’d missed out on that delightful filet mignon dinner that she’d so meticulously planned with the caterers.

She was grumbling about her sore feet and rumbling stomach when her filet mignon magically appeared in front of her. "Oh, my God, I love you!" she said, assuming it was Charlotte or a member of the waitstaff who saved her from starvation. She immediately regretted it when she looked up to see a blushing Darcy sit down next to her. "I was talking to the steak, of course."

Darcy actually laughed at that. "Of course. I noticed you never had a chance to sit down through dinner, so I spoke to the caterer and saved you a plate." Elizabeth looked up, somewhat abashed that Darcy of all people had been so considerate.

"Thank you," she said quietly as she began eating.

"How are you holding up? You’ve seemed rather busy all evening."

"As well as can be expected. Your aunt has exacting standards."

"Yes," he smiled contritely, "she loves to be of use, though rarely follows through on the execution of her advise." Elizabeth merely nodded, not wishing to insult his aunt directly.

Conversation tapered off at that, but Darcy didn’t move away to mingle. He sat there silently, quietly watching her as she ate. It was all rather uncomfortable and under different circumstances she might have told him off, but he had brought her food, after all. After she’d finished her meal he held his hand out and asked her to dance. She was already itching to get out of his company and was too tired to dance, but couldn’t think of a valid reason to say no when he was being so nice.

He led her out to the dance floor and the silence followed them. Feeling stifled under the words left unsaid, Elizabeth commented: "it is nice to have an occasion to waltz, it validates all of those middle school gym classes."

~~~

Darcy merely murmured his assent and glided his thumb across her back, enjoying the feel of her in his arms. He’d been too focused on what he wanted to ask her to fully process what she was saying. Elizabeth rolled her eyes and added, "It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some
sort of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

That pulled him out of his nerves enough to remind him of their surroundings and the tremendous amount of work she’d put into that room. "You did a remarkable job pulling this event together Elizabeth. My aunt’s ballroom has never looked so elegant."

"I wasn’t fishing for complements, I just wanted to start a conversation."

"Well, the praise was well earned." He fell silent for another moment, but needed to rouse himself to comply with her wishes so he said the first thing that popped into his head. "It is nice dancing with you without the accompaniment of dogs."

"I’ll admit that Mary has a much harder time staying on tune than the string quartet," she said as her bewitching eyes sparkled. They both laughed and in that moment everything in Darcy’s life felt perfect.

Now was the moment, he had to say something. He couldn’t let her just walk out of his life again tomorrow. He’d tried distance to forget her and it hadn’t worked. But how much was too much? He couldn’t just blurt out that he loved her here in his aunt’s ballroom yet asking her out on a date didn’t seem sufficient for what he felt. He looked around the room and decided on a compromise. "Elizabeth," he sighed her name, "would you be my Valentine?"

He was entirely unprepared for her response. She snorted a laugh and quipped, "Valentines day is a fake holiday used to sell jewelry and candy and to force couples try to live up to unrealistic expectations while making single people feel even more alone and undesirable than they already do."

"But..." he started and gestured around them with their joined hands.

"We’re exploiting the exploitative holiday to raise money for a good cause. If people are already going to blow more money than they have on a dinner to celebrate a commercial holiday, why shouldn’t that money go to save puppies?"

He sighed, "Elizabeth, I think you’re missing the critical point to my question." She looked at him and gestured for him to continue. "I admire you. I love you. I want you in my life." There. He’d said it.

"What about your boyfriend?" she asked with a wrinkled brow.

"Boyfriend? Whatever gave you the idea that I had a boyfriend?" He looked down at himself and murmured: "is it the suits?"

"Well, the fastidious way you dress doesn’t help your case, but what about Bingley? The ’friend’ who got you a replacement form of affection when he left town?"

"Bingley is just a friend. I like women. Specifically, I like you," He said, hoping to get this conversation back on the right track.

"Seriously? We see each other for maybe an hour a week for a couple of months, you almost kiss me at a dog park, then disappear for five months until we’re thrown together by circumstance and you expect ... what? ... that I’d just fall at your feet?"

"Ok, I know that I shouldn’t have just walked away like that, but I was falling in love with you and felt myself losing control and I just panicked. We’re from different spheres, I didn’t know how we could fit into each other’s lives, how we could make it work, what we’d tell my family. So I gave myself space, tried to forget you and it didn’t work I couldn’t stop thinking about you. Then I came here and saw how well you handled my aunt, what an amazing hostess and event planner you are, how well you fit in to this world and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass."

"Well, I’m glad I clean up well enough for you to be seen with in public," Elizabeth fumed. He hadn’t explicitly said that, but he could see the truth to her barb. He was just opening his mouth to apologize when she cut him off. "I never wanted anything other than common civility from you, I certainly wasn’t trying to ’catch’ you. Hopefully your high standards will help you get over someone from my ’sphere."

He felt her drawing away and his hold instinctively tightened. "That’s it? Don’t you feel you owe me an explanation?"

"First of all, I don’t owe you anything. You have been arrogant and rude since the day I met you. You’re rarely civil, you don’t seem to know how to have a conversation without domineering it, you only seem interested in how a relationship affects you. And then there’s Jane."

"Jane?" He asked, his head spinning, "the dog?"

"Yes, Jane, the traumatized rescue dog who has always been afraid of male dogs until she met Bingley and suddenly she was like a carefree puppy again. Did you know that dogs can recognize the sound of specific cars? Did you know that every time you came to the park Jane pointed towards your car? Or that every time you drove by the park without stopping she sunk a little further back into her shell?
Who drives past a dog park regularly for months without stopping in?"

No, he hadn’t known all of that. He was embarassed that Elizabeth knew all of the times he’d almost gone back to the dog park and he stammered out a response: "I ... I couldn’t decide what to do, so I figured the safest route was to do nothing. But sometimes I just couldn’t help myself. It was oddly soothing just driving by a place that I knew you were."

Elizabeth rolled her eyes before she spoke again. "See, selfish. Have you even given Bingley any exercise recently or just teased him with not-quite trips to the dog park? And nothing highlights your selfishness more than your behavior to George Wickham. You ruined his life, his livelihood, and went against your own father’s wishes for his role in the company."

Darcy’s hands loosened in shock, and he cried: "This is really what you think of me?"

Elizabeth broke free and delivered the final parting blow of: "You are the last man in the world I could ever see myself dating." Then she walked away from him, trying to minimize the scene they’d no doubt made. Darcy turned the other direction and headed for the exit, she obviously didn’t want his company and she had to stay until the end of the event. He would leave apparently his absence was the only thing she wanted that he could give her right now. Richard caught his eye with a questioning look but he shook his head no and proceeded to his room alone.

Once he reached the safety of solitude he sank into a chair and indulged himself in grief for a while. The only woman he’d ever really loved hated him. He felt a bitter dark despair wrap around him. This feeling, right here, was why he didn’t want to fall in love in the first place. He didn’t want to need anybody so much that they could hurt him this much. She hated him and it seemed there was nothing he could do to fix it. With her heated accusations she’d even succeeded in making him hate himself. He hated that his manners were so stiff that she’d believed George Wickham over him. Wickham, he sneered, he hated George Wickham most of all.

He shot up in the bed. He couldn’t defend himself against her opinion of himself – if someone accuses you of being selfish and proud and not caring about the feelings of others, a response of ’no, you’re wrong’ would only confirm that belief – but he sure as hell could set her straight about George Wickham. Whatever George had told her obviously was not the truth and leaving her unaware could open her up to danger. Relieved to have an active employment, he sat down at the desk and wrote her a note on the ridiculous Rosings stationary that his aunt kept in all of the guest rooms. Seven drafts, three breakdowns, half a bottle of whisky, one anxious visit from Richard, and several hours later, he sealed the envelope and wrote her name reverently on the front.

This task done, he laid down to attempt to sleep, but the bitter despair plagued him again. She hated him. She thought he was selfish! Him! He spent more money per year on charitable donations than her annual salary! He gave up his youth, devoted his twenties to raising a young sister and managing Pemberley in order to keep his father’s legacy alive! He ... hadn’t actually thought about Elizabeth’s feelings once in all of his months of agonizing about her.

He’d worried about how she could affect his life without even considering her life. Even tonight, he’d fixated on how well she could fit into ’his’ world, but he usually hated these functions. In his vision of the future with her she’d been his wife, his lover, his companion at charity events. She’d be there to greet him when he came home, there to give Georgiana advice and guidance. She’d be the mother to his children. June f***ing Cleaver.

None of these scenarios involved her keeping the job that was clearly important to her. He knew from Collins that she regularly volunteered at the shelter as well. Would she still have time for these things? Would she still be the same Elizabeth Bennet that he’d fallen in love with if he tried to force her into that mold? What attracted him to her in the first place was how different she was from the other women that vied for his attention: she was neither overly deferential nor cloyingly possessive. She was willing to voice her own opinions, to disagree with him or engage in lively debate. She was funny and witty and vibrant partially because she enjoyed life without caring about her image or what others thought.

There, lying in the dark in his wrinkled tux, he swore to himself that he’d make an effort to change. He didn’t want to be selfish and disapproving anymore, those traits had chased off the woman he loved. He wanted to become worthy of a woman like her. When sleep alluded him that night, instead of counting sheep he counted off all of the things he would never want to change about her. He drifted off somewhere around the sixth time he’d listed her eyes.

Chapter 7: Awakening

Elizabeth rolled over and pawed at her phone to turn off the alarm. Five thirty was way to early to be awake the morning after the ball. However, the vendors would start arriving at ten to pick up the rented tables and linens. Luckily, Catherine DeBurgh had made it clear before she retired for the evening that she was not to be disturbed until at least noon today so if Elizabeth could manage to get her portion of the clean up completed early, she could be done and on the road before she had to hear a single criticism from that woman today.

The rest of the event had gone as well as can be expected of a night of drinking and spending to excess. They had surpassed their initial fundraising goal, though they had fallen short of their stretch goal. After the results of the silent auction were announced, Lady Catherine and her ilk spent the rest of the evening either bragging about their successes or sulking over their losses and comparing the sizes of their yachts. The younger socialites, who had been avoiding her for most of the evening, swarmed around Elizabeth pumping her for information. Apparently William Darcy rarely danced and never lost his temper and tonight he had done both with Elizabeth then stormed out of the ball. This made her a target for the barbs of the women who felt they had a better claim on him and an object of interest to the men who wanted to see what the fuss was about. Elizabeth had no interest or patience for either and had done her best to fend them off until Richard had taken it upon himself to divert their attention with wild stories explaining his cousin’s behavior.

After a quick shower she met Charlotte in the kitchen of the carriage house turned guest house that they’d stayed in for some coffee before they headed over to the main house for cleanup. "So..." Charlotte asked as they walked through the cold, "are you going to tell me what happened last night, or ...?"

"I don’t know what you’re talking about," Elizabeth lied. She didn’t know what to say and didn’t want to disrupt the peace of the early morning air with her anger and confusion.

"Fine, but some day..." Elizabeth remained silent as they entered the main house and met Richard in the ballroom.

Lizzie was knee deep in dirty linens sorting napkins from tablecloths when Darcy came in, flustered and rumpled wearing his tux shirt and pants from the evening before. Even when she’d convinced him to wear jeans and a tee shirt to the dog park they’d been pristine and wrinkle free, now he looked like a mess. Apparently all it had taken for him to loosen up was to utterly break his spirit, the thought left a bitter taste in her mouth. "Would you please read this?" He asked timidly. She nodded and he bowed his head as he handed it to her and left.

She stared at the letter for a few seconds before blinking and looking around her. Richard and Charlotte both hastily looked away and bustled about folding tables trying to be inconspicuous but confirming to Elizabeth that they’d witnessed the whole scene. She self-consciously slipped the letter into her back pocket and went back to sorting.

It was hours later, as she was pulled over at a rest stop beside the highway with a full tank of gass and a fresh cup of tea that she allowed herself to take the letter out of her pocket and read it.

Dear Elizabeth,

Don’t worry, I promise that this isn’t a love poem or a romantic plea or anything of that sort. You’ve made your feelings very clear and I respect that. There are a few aspects of our conversation last night that I did not have the ability or self control to explain last night. Other than my general disposition, you made two primary complaints. The first was regarding Jane and Bingley and the second regarding Mr. Wickham.

Regarding the dogs: I was not aware of Jane’s trauma. I have only ever seen her happy and energetic. While Bingley certainly did show a marked interest in Jane, she appeared just as playful with other dogs and I certainly didn’t mean to hurt her. At the risk of sinking myself even further in your opinion, I don’t believe I paid much heed to their emotions when I ceased my trips to the park. As to Bingley’s exercise, I have a rather sizable backyard in which he runs daily and either myself or my sister often indulge him in a game of fetch. I know you think me a villain, but my dog is well cared for and I am sorry if I gave you reason to doubt that.

While I would never insult you by trivializing the well being of our dogs, your second accusation against me was far weightier. My history with George Wickham is long and fractious. Since I don’t know what he’s told you, I’ll just give you all of the pertinent facts. George Wickham’s father was a senior partner at Pemberley and good friends with my own father. George and I grew up together as good friends. In high school, however, the nature of our friendship changed. We began to drift apart into separate friend groups almost immediately but the real change came when Mr. Wickham died of lung cancer in our sophomore year. My family rallied around him and George came to live with us. Though he’d partied before, at this time George fell into bad habits and began heavily drinking and using drugs. My parents did their best to support him, rationalizing that it was part of the grieving process. On their own I could overlook these habits particularly at such a time, but as a member of his own peer group I could see more of his change in character than my parents. He grew jaded and began manipulating those around him. I particularly found his treatment of the girls he went out with abhorrent and distanced myself from him as much as possible.

Although his father had a good job and made good money, his mother had been extravagant and spent money faster than it came in. When we were in middle school, she managed to clear out what was left of their savings and disappeared. The family’s finances never fully recovered and in the end Mr. Wickham had to sell off his shares of Pemberley to pay the medical bills. The poor man died with nothing to leave his son. My own father, out of true affection and a sense of duty to his godson, put George through college and even hired him into a lower management role at Pemberley after graduation – even though his GPA barely allowed him to graduate. Despite any evidence to the contrary, my father didn’t believe in handing over the keys to the castle without experience so I was hired at the same level as George. Unfortunately, his performance was barely adequate. His direct supervisors never suggested him for promotion and in spite of his partiality, even my father couldn’t justify promoting him. While I will admit that I had significant advantages in my favor, I worked hard, excelled at my job, and rose quickly through the ranks.

Five years ago, my life drastically changed when my parents were killed in a car accident. At this time the board named me CEO because of a combination of factors including my job performance, the fact that I’d become a majority shareholder, and the fact that a Darcy had always been the figurehead of the company. George was enraged and came to my office demanding what was ’due’ to him from my father’s wishes. I explained that his current position was secure, as per my father’s wishes, but that further promotion would be based on merit. He stormed out of my office and outside of some vicious water cooler talk and regular requests for raises or loans I thought the matter had been settled.

The circumstances I am about to explain are covered by a non-disclosure agreement for the protection of my sister and my company, so I trust that you understand the need for secrecy. When my parents died my sister was only fourteen. Since she was a minor I became her guardian and my cousin Richard and I became trustees of her inheritance until she came of age. Although she will not take on her full role at Pemberley until she graduates from college, when she turned eighteen she came into partial control of her inheritance, including an equal share in the company to my own. George, realizing that I would not give him financial assistance or facilitate his rise in the company, attempted at that point to gain the same from my sister.

Although she was nearly ten years younger than us, George had lived with us for three years while she was young and she loved and trusted him almost as another brother. Using his considerable charm, he morphed that love and seduced my sister. He played the role of ’star-crossed lover’ by convincing her that I had somehow stolen his father’s shares in the company and blocked his promotions. While at a company retreat, he apparently convinced her to elope with him to Vegas without telling me. They finished the team building exercises for the night then went to their individual rooms to pack.

We were all woken up by Georgiana’s screams. Apparently George had ’celebrated’ his way through the mini bar and passed out while waiting for his bride. When Georgiana slipped into his room Killer thought she was an intruder and attacked. Thankfully George woke up and called the dog off, but
not before he’d sunk his teeth into her and fractured her arm. We found out in the ensuing investigation that George had amassed some fairly heavy gambling debts and had trained Killer as a guard dog to keep away his more persistent creditors. As you may surmise, my reaction to Killer that day at Netherfield was based on his past behaviors and not his breed as a whole.

George kept up the role of doting fiancée for roughly a day while Georgiana was in the hospital until my lawyers made it clear to him that she had only partial control of her inheritance until she turned twenty one. Georgiana insisted that George would happily sign a prenuptial agreement because he loved her and didn’t care about the money or the stupid feud between us. I will never forget the way her face fell as he dropped her hand, made some excuse, and slowly backed out of the room. She was devastated. Even now, over a year later, she’s not fully herself.

We discovered the next day as part of the investigation of incident that he’d also embezzled money from Pemberley. It was enough for us to press charges, but low enough to stay under the radar. He charmed his sentence down to only six months. Of course he was fired from Pemberley, and he’s had trouble finding another job in finance with a criminal record. While the conviction is a matter of public record, you won’t find anything on the attack. We didn’t want Georgiana’s name attached to the scandal and since the attack happened at a company retreat it could have impacted our reputation if it was publicly known. Luckily we’ve managed to keep that quiet with the NDA.

Please believe me that a sense of duty to my sister and my company was the only reason I did not tell you when I saw Wickham with you at Netherfield. If you wish to verify this account, please feel free to apply to my cousin Richard. I believe he will be assisting with the cleanup efforts this morning and will be available to you.

I’m not sure how much contact you’ve had with Wickham, or how injured you may be by this narrative. I do know how charming he can be and my family is full of intelligent people who were utterly fooled by him. I could not bear to see you injured in the same way. I wish you nothing but happiness,

Sincerely, William Darcy

Elizabeth’s hands shook as she read. His account of Bingley and Jane was everything she expected. He was presumptuous and selfish and didn’t care about the consequences of his actions on the well being of their pets. Initially she was still too angry to believe his account of Mr. Wickham. His justification of his own rise in the company and George’s stagnation seemed weak. Of course the boss’s son happened to be the best qualified and hardest working employee. Nepotism had nothing to do with it. Her righteous indignation began to deflate somewhat when his sister came into the story but that account was so far fetched that she had trouble believing it. Who could seduce someone that much younger and that they’d known as a baby?

Elizabeth didn’t like the responses to that question her own mind conjured up, so she decided a second reading of the letter was in order. After this second perusal, she pulled out her phone to look up the embezzlement case, and sure enough it was a matter of record. If this much was true, why would he make up the part about his sister? She had seen the panic in his eyes when Killer barked at her at Netherfield. It was probably the first genuine, unmasked emotion she’d seen from him.

After a third read through she began questioning her own ability to read people. Wickham had told her that story on the first day she’d met him and she’d believed him. Since then she’d seen him a handful of times at the dog park over the last several months but not consistently and never on a Wednesday. Had he intentionally sought her out while trying to avoid Darcy? Their conversation was never deep, always flirtatious, and the only personal topics he ever brought up had to do with Darcy.

Her judgment of Darcy was even worse. She’d been so certain of her opinion of Darcy but had she ever really known him? Sure, he was awkward, had the tendency to speak without thinking about how it might impact others, and he was selfish ... but did all of this add up to him being the snobby @#$%& she’d long considered him? Would that person trust her with confidential information or try so hard to protect his sister?

Did she even know herself? She’d always considered her ability to read people as one of her best qualities. She had a minor in psychology and yet she’d villainized one man because he dismissed her and believed another because he’d flattered her! If she was that bad at reading humans, what did that say about her ability to read animals? She replayed the initial introduction to George and Killer in her mind. She’d initially read the pit’s body language and growl at Lydia and been on her guard, moving to intervene. All it took was a smile, a couple of innuendos, and a few complements from his owner and she’d all but canonized the dog when Darcy tried to warn her of his past behavior. Was she actually any good at her job?

This swirling chasm of self-doubt was, thankfully, interrupted by a text from her mother asking when she’d be back to pick up the dogs. Elizabeth sent off a quick reply, put the car into gear, and resumed her journey.

An hour later she opened the door to her parent’s house and was instantly greeted by four happy dogs. "Lizzy, is that you?" Her mother called from the kitchen.

"Yeah mom, thank you again for watching my girls this weekend," she said as she made her way to her mother.

"Oh, they were perfect angels ... except for when your dad teases them and gets them all riled up at once, he has no compassion for my poor nerves."

Her dad emerged from his study and kissed his wife on the cheek, "I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends." Her mother swatted him playfully with a kitchen towel as he moved to kiss Lizzy on the top of her head, just as he’d done every time she’d come home since she could toddle out of the door.

"I hope you restrained yourself at least somewhat, you don’t want them to be afraid of you," Lizzy lightly chastised.

"Nothing of the sort!" Mr. Bennet responded with mock affront.

"Oh no!" Mrs. Bennet added in a baby voice, "your girls love visiting grandma and grandpa!"

Elizabeth inwardly cringed at the application of those titles to dogs, but she let her mother have that small concession. "I hope you didn’t spoil them too much," Elizabeth said, suspiciously eyeing the matching new rhinestone collars that all four dogs wore.

"Of course I did, that’s what grandmas are for," she said as she slipped Lydia a piece of chicken from the slow cooker. "Anyway, it’s not like I have anyone else to spoil. Speaking of, how was the ball? Did you meet any handsome young men?"

Elizabeth sighed and dropped her head onto the kitchen table. "Yes...?" She responded hesitantly.

"Oh! Tell me all about it!" Mrs. Bennet squealed. Elizabeth just moaned.

"Uh, oh," her father chuckled, "that doesn’t sound promising ... do tell."

"There’s this guy that I met over the summer ..." Elizabeth told the abridged version of the story to her parents, avoiding too much detail lest her mother decided to intervene. The story was punctuated by occasional giggles from her mother or teasing from her father, but just confiding the whole mess to someone else was cathartic for Elizabeth. "... and now that I’ve read his letter I’m starting to doubt everything. Am I really a decent judge of character? Have I just gone and broke a good man’s heart for no reason?"

True to form, her father laughed and ruffled her hair, "cheer up Lizzy, a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then."

"It does make it more romantic!" Mrs. Bennet confirmed.

"And if he’s too squeamish to put up with a bit of absurdity, he doesn’t really love you." Mr. Bennet added.

"I still don’t know that I want him to be in love with me, but I do wish I’d been a bit kinder in my rejection. In any case, it’s unlikely I’ll even see Darcy again."

At this her mother’s head shot up and she asked in a tiny voice, "Darcy?" Elizabeth winced, kicking herself for saying his name in front of her mother. She got up and began rifling through a stack of magazines until she finally found the one she wanted and began frantically flipping through the pages. "William Darcy? CEO of Pemberley LLC?" Mrs. Bennet slammed the magazine down in front of Elizabeth to reveal a glossy photo of Darcy with a large red 11 indicating his place in the magazine’s list of most eligible bachelors.

"How do you even know his name mom?" Elizabeth asked in resignation, feeling all of the comfort of confiding in her mother fading away.

"When you’ve got unmarried daughters, you pay attention to the single gentlemen available."

"You know the odds of me even running into one of these guys are low, right? And Kathy isn’t even out of college yet!"

"Well, number 43 took Mrs. Long’s niece to coffee once, so I knew it could happen!" Mrs. Bennet wailed, "couldn’t you have tried to like him at least a little? The man has three houses and a condo downtown! Think of the clothes you could have bought, and the fancy cars..."

Mr. Bennet looked disapprovingly at his wife, "Fran! You know that none of that would make Elizabeth happy if she didn’t love the guy. She’s not some gold digger!"

"But..." Mrs. Bennet began, but withered under her husband’s glare and sighed. "I suppose a declaration of love from number 11 is better than coffee with number 43 even if it doesn’t go any further."

Mr. Bennet shook his head and turned back to his daughter, "Lizzy, don’t jump into a relationship unless you can actually respect your partner." Elizabeth noticed the pleading look in his eyes and read his silent subtext that he knew from experience what happened if you didn’t have that mutual respect in marriage.

Chapter 8: Confrontation

Elizabeth faltered somewhat through her first couple of appointments on Monday morning, but as the day progressed she fell into stride and regained her confidence that she was in fact good at her job. By Tuesday morning she was back to her habitual confidence and routine, even if her thoughts did occasionally stray back to Darcy’s injured expression or the words of his letter.

When she got back from lunch she pulled up her next appointment and was confronted with the rather lengthy file for Anne DeBurgh. Elizabeth had hoped to have a reprieve from dealing with ’Lady’ Catherine after the ball ended, but she would have to grit her teeth and do her job. She’d seen the fussy Persian before for behaviors that were absolutely normal for a cat, but didn’t fit into Mrs. DeBurgh’s rigid ideas.

At precisely one, a confused vet tech led the austere woman into Elizabeth’s office. "Mrs. DeBurgh, it’s lovely to see you again."

"Miss Bennet, I’m sure you know why I’m here."

"I’m not sure I can account for it, I don’t see Anne with you and the notation for today’s appointment just says ’seriously displeased.’" Elizabeth had been trying to figure out if that referred to the cat or her owner, but Mrs. DeBurgh’s anger answered that question for her.

"I am not here for my cat, I will never again trust the welfare of my cat to the likes of you after what you did this weekend!"

"Excuse me?" Elizabeth asked, unsure what a charity ball had to do with her cat’s welfare.

"You ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. Don’t think I missed how shamefully you threw yourself at my nephew at the ball! I allowed you into my home, I put my faith in you! Only to have you turn around and seduce my nephew."

"Mrs. DeBurgh, I did no such thing."

"I would not suppose the truth of it possible had I not seen it with my own eyes. I would never accuse William of dallying with the hired help. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in.” She pulled out a glossy photograph from her briefcase of Elizabeth and Darcy dancing at the ball and slammed it down on the desk. It must have been taken before the argument because Darcy was holding her close with his eyes closed and a tender smile while Elizabeth laughed.

"First off, I am not the hired help. I am a professional who volunteered to plan a charity event for a good cause – which, I will add, was a huge success – Second, my personal life is none of your business."

"I am almost the nearest relation he has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns.”

"But you are not entitled to know mine; nor will such behavior as this, ever induce me to be explicit.”

“Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. He is destined to marry a woman of his own sphere who will be a credit to his family name."

"In that case you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me." Elizabeth’s mind reeled at the rapid escalation this conversation took from a single dance to marriage.

"Oh, he might fool around with you for a while, but I’m here to make sure you know you’ll never get what you want. Even if he were to lose his senses entirely and propose, it won’t be worth it for you. His money will be locked behind an airtight prenuptial agreement and you will never be accepted by our society. If you’re looking to claw your way up the social ladder, think again. You will be censured, slighted, and despised, by everyone connected with him. Your alliance will be a disgrace; your name will never even be mentioned by any of us.”

“These are heavy misfortunes,” replied Elizabeth. “But the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation, that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine.”

"So you admit that you’re after his money then!" Mrs. DeBurgh said triumphantly.

"I have said nothing about his money, but it is unfortunate that you immediately equate any happiness attached to marrying your nephew with his money."

"Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you these last months? Is nothing due to me on that score? Let us sit down. You are to understand, Miss Bennet, that I came here with the determined resolution of carrying my purpose; nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been used to submit to any person’s whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment.”

“That will make your situation at present more pitiable; but it will have no effect on me.”

“I will not be interrupted. Hear me in silence. I recognize the upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune when I see them. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up.”

"Mrs. DeBurgh, My father is a banker, your nephew is in finance, I’m not quite sure which sphere you’re referring to."

"Your father is a branch manager at a local bank, my nephew heads a multi-national corporation. And what about your mother? Mr. Collins told me that she’s never been able to hold down a job, don’t think I don’t know these things."

“Whatever my connections may be,” said Elizabeth, “if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you. Look, regardless of my parents, I have a master’s degree, I am an accredited animal behaviorist and I have a good job in my chosen field. I am financially independent and own my own home. I would rather spend my weekends actively contributing to the welfare of animals by volunteering at a shelter than attending parties in a pantomime of charity. I don’t know what you think I’m trying to gain here, but you are wrong."

Mrs. DeBurgh took a moment to stare Elizabeth down while seething before spitting out: "tell me once for all, are you romantically involved with him?"

Every instinct in Elizabeth’s battered skull was telling her not to back down to this bully, but she would not lie. "No, I am not."

The old dragon’s chest puffed up and she leaned over Elizabeth’s desk as if going in for the kill, “And will you promise me, never to enter into such an engagement?”

“I will make no promise of the kind.”

“You are then resolved to have him?”

"I am somewhat offended on Darcy’s bahalf that you consider him an object to be had. In any case, I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”

"Do you know who I am? I’m not leaving till you have given me the assurance I require.”

"In that case, you will be paying to cover my appointments for the rest of the afternoon, as it is you already owe $250 for this appointment."

"That’s absurd, I didn’t even bring my cat and you haven’t given me what I came for."

"Nevertheless, you scheduled an appointment for my time and it was your decision to waste it. The clinic has a policy that all cancellations must be made at least twenty-four hours in advance or you will be billed."

"I am one of the biggest clients of this clinic!"

"And yet you are still bound by the rules, the same as every one else. I owe you nothing."

“And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point.”

Elizabeth sighed in exasperation as ’Lady’ Catherine opened her door and began to huff out, "remember to stop at the desk and pay your bill on your way out," Elizabeth shouted after the retreating form. When she was alone, she sunk back into her chair grateful that she still had a half hour to calm down before her next appointment.



Author's Note: Sorry to strand you guys in the angst fest, I promise it will get better. If you can't wait for the HEA, e-mail me at cynicallycharged@gmail.com for a pdf of the full story.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Paws and Prejudice Chapters 5-8

MorganAMarch 09, 2019 06:56PM

Loving this story!

TashaMarch 13, 2019 07:34PM

Re: Paws and Prejudice Chapters 5-8

Sabine C.March 12, 2019 08:37PM

Re: Paws and Prejudice Chapters 5-8

Lucy J.March 12, 2019 05:16AM

Re: Paws and Prejudice Chapters 5-8

MMarch 10, 2019 08:35PM

Re: Paws and Prejudice Chapters 5-8

Shannon KMarch 09, 2019 11:10PM



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