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Paws and Prejudice Chapters 9-12 (end)

June 19, 2019 11:18PM

Chapter 9: Return

Georgiana Darcy took a deep breath at the gate to Netherfield dog park to calm her nerves. It had been over a year since the attack, her wounds had healed and all that was left was a scar wrapping around her arm to remind her of how stupid and naive she’d been. Bingley nudged her arm in his impatience and she gathered her courage. She loved this goofy dog even in spite of the attack. Bingley wouldn’t hurt her but she was still fighting a wave of anxiety over entering a space with a bunch of dogs she’d never met. The anxiety over William’s love life didn’t help the matter.

She had, of course, noted William’s odd behavior for months. He’d always been reserved but Georgiana remembered him laughing and playing with her when she was little. When their parents died it was like her brother withdrew into himself. While she had in time begun to heal from her grief and return to life, William only seemed to hide more under a mask. His smiles became an endangered species that then went extinct following the attack and everything that happened with George. It killed Georgiana to know that her own foolish actions had sapped away the last of his joy. She’d been cautiously optimistic last summer when William’s mood suddenly began to improve. For a couple of months he seemed almost happy, he’d loosened up, she’d even found him wearing jeans occasionally. He never told her what caused the change, but the way he said ’dog park’ with a dreamy smile made her think he’d either found the portal to Narnia or fallen in love. Then just as suddenly his mood had shifted again to agitated and gloomy. She’d still occasionally find him smiling softly but more often than not it would morph into a scowl.

She’d thought it couldn’t get worse until he’d come home from Aunt Catherine’s function on Sunday devastated. He wouldn’t tell her anything, just shut himself in his study with a bottle of scotch. He’d called into work on Monday and ’telecommuted’ on Tuesday. He’d barely said ten words to her in days when Aunt Catherine descended on their house yesterday afternoon in a rage bellowing about the upstart harpy Elizabeth Bennet who was destroying William’s future. Her intention was obviously to convince William to stay away from the girl, but her rant seemed to have the opposite effect. Her brother’s energy seemed to rise as their aunt talked and he eventually shouted their aunt out of their house.

After that scene, Georgiana finally cornered William and made him tell her the whole story. She had tried to convince him to go talk to Elizabeth himself but even though their aunt’s account of her meeting with Elizabeth gave him some chance to hope, he couldn’t get past the fact that she’d told him to leave her alone just days before. Georgiana, however, had no such restrictions and William had informed her where Elizabeth would be on a Wednesday afternoon so here she was. At the very least she could apologize for her aunt’s behavior and see if William’s letter had made any difference. With a final sigh, she hesitantly opened the gate. Bingley raced in and immediately approached an adorable cocker spaniel who perked up at the sight of him.

~~~

Elizabeth was, admittedly, somewhat distracted today as she mechanically threw balls for the dogs. She’d been unable to shake the memories of her arguments with either Darcy or his aunt. So when a golden retriever who looked just like Bingley bounded up to Jane she thought that she might just be losing her mind. She looked around but there was no Darcy in sight and Jane hadn’t pointed at the sound of his car like she usually did.

"Excuse me, are you Elizabeth Bennet?" Elizabeth turned around to find a girl about her height adressing her. She had lighter hair but stared at her with Darcy’s eyes and Elizabeth’s confusion lifted.

"Yes, that’s me. Are you Georgiana Darcy?"

The girl nodded her head and looked nervously at the dogs around her before turning back to address her, "I understand my aunt visited you yesterday."

Elizabeth let out a weary sigh, "yes. If you’re here to warn me away from your brother too you really don’t need to bother."

The girl’s shoulders slumped, "so there’s really no chance then?"

Elizabeth realized that she’d misread Georgiana’s purpose but she couldn’t give her the answer she wanted any more than she could have to Catherine DeBurgh. "I’m not sure what all you’ve heard, but some bridges just can’t be rebuilt. Anyway, I really think you all should just leave Darcy in peace to live his own life."

"Of course. I ... I just wanted to apologize for my aunt’s behavior. If she said even half of what she ranted to us about to your face ... I’m sorry and I just thought you should know that not all of our family share her opinions. Especially not my brother."

"I don’t know ... while he wasn’t as angry or vindictive as your aunt, your brother indicated some similar thoughts about my station in life as well. I don’t know how a relationship could ever work if one member thinks they’re better than the other."

"He may have said something that sounded vaguely similar, but when he’s flustered things just come out wrong and he speaks without thinking. He’s been shut up in his study for four days with a bottle of scotch moping about losing his only chance. Aunt Catherine left behind a picture of the two of you from the ball and William has already has it framed on his desk – he replaced a photo of Aunt Catherine and him at his graduation."

Elizabeth cringed, "contrary to what you may have heard about my cruelty, I didn’t want to hurt him. I don’t want him to be in pain, but I also don’t see how a relationship could possibly work out if he thinks I’m so inferior to him."

"Didn’t his letter change your mind even a little?"

"Of course it did. I was obviously wrong about ..." Lizzie trailed off as she looked at the spot on Georgiana’s arm that she kept subconsciously covering with her other hand even though it was covered with layers of clothing and a coat "... certain things, and I’d like to apologize for my harsh words but that doesn’t mean that everything would magically work out."

"But he’s no longer the ’last man in the world’ you’d consider?" Georgiana asked hopefully.

Elizabeth thought it over, she didn’t want to give false hope, but she wasn’t entirely indifferent to his attentions either. "Perhaps not the last."

"So if he were to come back to Netherfield next Wednesday?"

"It is a public park, he is welcome to come if he chooses." Georgiana raised an eyebrow at her, indicating that she knew Elizabeth was intentionally missing the point. "Ok, yes, I’ll talk to him if he comes next week, clear the air. But don’t pin too much hope to this."

Georgiana gave an excited squeal and clapped her hands, prompting Lydia and Kitty to investigate. Georgiana flinched away even from the small friendly dogs and Elizabeth realized how much courage it must have taken the girl, who was clearly still nervous around dogs, to come here today. "Perhaps you should come too, get acclimated to interacting with other dogs again."

Georgiana looked down and rubbed her arm, "I know it’s silly, but how can I tell which dogs I can trust?"

Elizabeth took pity on the girl and decided to start her off slow, "I hear you’re fond of music, why don’t we start you off with Mary. She’s old, gentle, and not very active anymore, but she loves music."

~~~

William Darcy parked the car but remained frozen in place, one hand with a white knuckled grip still on the steering wheel. Georgiana had come home last Wednesday, told him he’d have to shape up if he wanted a second chance with Elizabeth, then forced him to shower and shave before she’d tell him more about her trip to Netherfield. He’d spent most of the last week trying to be better. He’d payed attention to his interactions and tried to see them through her eyes. He’d made an attempt to be nicer to people, to filter his comments, to think about the consequences of his words and the feelings of others. It was surprisingly exhausting and yet he already felt the benefits in his relationship with his employees.

Georgiana had told him that Elizabeth wanted him to come today, but he still didn’t quite believe it. What if he walked in there and she still hated him as much as she had at the ball? He didn’t think he could take another argument like that. "Will," Georgiana said, drawing him out of his fears, "you know Jane has probably already alerted Elizabeth that you’re here. Sitting in the car won’t get you anywhere." He sighed, acknowledging the truth to that and unbuckled his seat belt. As they approached the gate Georgiana slipped her hand in his and he knew that she was as nervous as he was due to lingering fears since the attack. Remembering Elizabeth’s criticisms, he did his best to soothe his sister’s nerves, "we don’t have to be here, we could go home if there are too many dogs for you to handle." It would be painful to come this far to see Elizabeth and turn and walk away, but he didn’t want to put Georgiana in an uncomfortable situation either.

"And leave Elizabeth hanging?" She tried to sound brave, but he heard the tremble in her voice. Bingley strengthened her argument with a whine and Georgiana gathered up her courage, "no. You’re not using me as an excuse."

He smiled reassuringly at her, "ok, but you could go back to the car if it gets to be too much."

She smiled gratefully for a moment then pushed him forward, "stop stalling," and together they faced their fears.

Pushing through the gate he was struck with a sense of familiarity tinged with change. The green grass and lush trees he’d left in August were now brown and barren. Elizabeth was there, running around with the dogs. Her tee shirt and leggings were replaced with jeans and a puffy winter coat. Her curls peeked out from a knit cap with two pompoms at the top and her matching scarf hung loosely from her neck. Her cheeks were ruddy in the cold air and her smile felt like coming home. That smile faltered somewhat when she saw him approach, but she met him part way.

"Hello Elizabeth." Now that she’d dismantled his world he felt all the more awkward and formal and out of place in hers.

"Darcy, it’s ... nice to see you," it sounded forced and he doubted her sincerity.

"Is it? Georgiana said ... but I wasn’t sure ..."

"No, it’s good, we should talk," Elizabeth said somewhat uncomfortably.

Georgiana looked between the two for a moment, squeezed his hand reassuringly, and said, "I’ll just be over there." She then joined Mary under a tree .

"That’s progress," he said, watching his sister pet the dog tentatively.

"Yeah, it took some work last week, but Mary’s content to just lie there and cuddle, she’s safe."

They fell silent for several minutes while he tried to gather the courage to apologize, to explain, to say ... anything to improve their situation. He’d just started with "Elizabeth ..." at the same moment she said his name. "Please, go ahead ..." he urged.

"Look, we could both apologize for our behavior at the ball, get lost in explanations that just end up opening old wounds and insulting each other again. Or ... could we just start over? Hang out at the dog park, talk about silly topics, pretend that we don’t have so much baggage between us?"

William took a moment to consider. He couldn’t forget how terribly he’d spoken to her, or her reproofs, how else would he change his own behavior? He also knew that one of those things she wanted to ignore was the fact that he loved her. He knew that he couldn’t just stop loving her, but he could be patient, give her time to catch up without prejudice clouding her judgment. "I’d like that," he said.

~~~

For the next month they met weekly at the dog park. Every week Elizabeth watched him walk through those gates at exactly 4:00 with a smile and an adoring gaze. Sometimes Georgiana came with him, sometimes she was was ’busy’ – though Elizabeth suspected she just wanted to give them some time alone.

Elizabeth could tell that Darcy was making a greater effort to talk to the other people at the park as well as her, though he did so with effort. She was beginning to believe that he was, like his sister, rather shy. With Georgiana’s soft speech, averted gaze, and gentle blushes it was easy to detect. However, she soon realized that Darcy’s commanding tone and avoidance of people outside of his own ’circle’ were just ways to ease his social anxieties. It made her feel special that both of the reticent Darcys now seemed comparatively comfortable in her presence.

They bantered, they had lighthearted arguments about books or movies, or which direction the toilet paper should hang. Elizabeth had really come to admire his debating skills and she found immense satisfaction in shifting her own arguments to counter his. They told each other about their days and stories about their childhoods. They talked about everything ... everything but the elephant in the room. He loved her and she still didn’t quite know what she felt for him.

One day near the end of March Georgiana came alone. Elizabeth wasn’t surprised at his absence, Darcy had told her he had to meet a potential client who was only flying in for the day and wouldn’t make it this week. It seemed silly to admit, even to herself, that she felt a pang of disappointment at his absence.

"Hey!" Georgiana greeted as she flopped down next to Mary.

"Hi!" Elizabeth called back as she disentangled herself from the group of dogs and joined her beneath the tree, Jane and Bingley joined them while Lydia and Kitty continued the game of tug of war between themselves (Lydia was trying to steal Kitty’s favorite toy again).

"William has been moping around all week," Georgiana said and rolled her eyes, "you’d swear from his expression that he was donating a kidney rather than just missing a week at the park."

"Well, it is important to keep up a routine," Elizabeth laughed, trying to ignore the implications that missing a week of her company sent him into a mood suggested.

"It’s his birthday this weekend and we’re having a little party at Pemberley on Friday, will you please do us all a favor and come? He hates parties and being the center of attention to begin with and apparently he needs his weekly dose of banter in order to function."

"Well, I suppose I can manage it if it would save the guests from his grumpy glare."

"Thank God! That smile of yours is a public service."

Elizabeth tried for her usual lightness through the rest of their conversation but was somewhat unsure of herself. This would be the first time they’d seen each other outside of the park since the ball. They’d reached a good balance here, but she didn’t know how it would transfer into the real world. Into his world.

Chapter 10: Pemberley

Elizabeth felt self conscious as she walked through the glass doors onto the marble floors of Pemberley LLC. Georgiana met her in the lobby and took her into the party, depositing her at the bar. "Ok, I’m going to try to pull him out of his office, will you be ok here on your own for a bit?"

Elizabeth laughed, "I think I’ll survive."

"Good, I’ll send you a text if I need reinforcement."

Elizabeth ordered her drink and settled in to people watching. It had only been a couple of minutes since Georgiana had left her when a handsome man with wavy blond hair sat at the stool next to her and gave her a thousand watt smile, something about him seemed vaguely familiar. "Hello, you must be new here. It’s always the same people at these things, but I’m certain I would remember an angel like you."

"Do you often catalog the attendees at parties?"

He tilted his head and replied, "only the pretty ones," with another charming smile. All of a sudden Elizabeth figured out who he reminded her of.

"Oh my god! You’re Charles Bingley, aren’t you?"

The man looked at her confused, "have we met?"

"No," she laughed, "but you remind me very much of a certain golden retriever I know!"

"Ah, so you know Darcy then? How do I match up to my canine counterpart?"

"Fairly well, I’d say. Though I’m glad you’ve refrained from licking my face upon introduction the way he did."

"Well, the night is young," he said flirtatiously, Elizabeth rolled her eyes.

"So how do you know Darcy?" He asked.

"Mostly from the dog park. Canine Bingley is in love with my dog Jane, you know."

Recognition flashed in his eyes, "wait, Elizabeth? From the dog park?"

"That’s me," she said, somewhat dreading what he’d heard about her.

~~~

"Come on, William. It’s your own Birthday party, you can’t just hide in your office all evening." Georgiana argued, gently tugging on his arm.

"Can’t I?" He asked irritably, "you know I hate these things."

"You know if it was my choice we’d be at home in our pajamas eating cake. This was the board, and if I have to suffer through it, so should you." William groaned. He knew he was being a childish, grumpy, hermit but having missed the one social engagement he looked forward to each week he didn’t want to throw himself into the kind of event he hated. It was his birthday after all. "It may not be so bad. You may meet someone you like."

He snorted, "you know damn well that there’s no hope for that. The one person I want to see won’t be there."

"Won’t she?" Georgiana asked slyly.

That finally got him out of his chair. "She’s here? How? What did you do?"

His sister just laughed as she moved out of his office, "you’ll have to come down to the party to see."

"Georgiana Darcy, you better not be joking about this," he called after her as he put his jacked back on and tidied himself before heading down. The prospect of seeing Elizabeth Bennet was about the only thing that could make him look forward to a work social event. They’d made so much progress getting to know each other that it gave him hope for the future. However, the confinement of their meetings to one day a week at the dog park was starting to wear on him. He’d been in love with Elizabeth for so long now that an hour a week just wasn’t enough – particularly if he had to miss that hour one week. This week had made embarrassingly clear to him how vital Elizabeth was to his own happiness.

His eyes found her as soon as he entered the room. She was seated at the bar with Charles and Georgiana. As he approached, Georgiana tapped the screen of her phone and Elizabeth and Charles laughed as she showed it to them. "Elizabeth," he breathed her name as she turned toward him and smiled and it felt like a weight lifted from his shoulders.

"Happy Birthday!" She said, giving him a half hug.

"I didn’t know you’d be here," he said, smiling and restraining himself from pulling her further into his arms.

"Well, Georgiana informed me that my presence was vital to the party so I couldn’t miss it."

"I couldn’t agree more, will you dance with me?" He asked, longing to have her to himself and seeing no other option for that without just dragging her out of the party all together. She nodded and he took her hand, moving to the center of the room where a few others were dancing.

"So," she asked as he took her into his arms, "do you always have a birthday party with fifty or so of your closest friends?"

"My closest friends were those assembled at the bar a moment ago with the addition of Richard. This," he gestured around the room with his head, "is the board of the company showing off to it’s biggest investors and socialites. My birthday is merely an excuse."

"So, not your ideal evening then," she said with that bewitching sparkle in her eye.

"I can’t find fault with it at the moment," he said trailing his hand up and down her back, "though I imagine it will become tedious once I have to make my rounds." They fell silent as Darcy imagined how much more enjoyable those rounds would be with Elizabeth at his side making witty banter.

"What was on Georgiana’s phone that made you all laugh as I came down?" He asked, curiosity getting the better of him and hoping it wasn’t pictures of him in the bath as a baby or that time he’d gotten frosted tips in High School.

"One minute fifty two seconds," she said with a quirk of her eyebrow, "Georgiana spent ten minutes trying to coax you down to the party with no success, but it took you less than two minutes to arrive after she’d told you I was here."

"I missed you," he replied truthfully without thinking and for a moment he feared her response.

"Nine days," she laughed, "you saw me nine days ago."

"Nine very long days," he repeated.

"Georgiana said you’ve been a bear, apparently my presence was required to protect everyone else from your mood."

"And look how easily you’ve accomplished that feat."

She sighed and leaned her head lightly on his chest. He barely allowed himself to breathe lest she move away.

~~~

As she listened to the rapid beat of his heart, Elizabeth couldn’t ignore the elephant any longer. Darcy loved her and she ... well, she could go that far yet but she was content here in his arms. Was that enough though? She could wait, but would she ever really know? She decided to take that gamble. "So what you’re saying is that you need more frequent doses?"

She leaned back to look in his eyes and saw the moment his expression softened when he caught her meaning. "Elizabeth ..." he began and she quickly put her finger to his lips to stop him from saying whatever terribly romantic declaration he was about to say. That was a bit too fast for her.

"Saturdays," she said, trying to keep some footing before this whole thing swept her away. "I spend some time at Netherfield most Saturday mornings. Early, 8am, before I head to the shelter." He looked away and nodded his head, his hopes deflated from a moment ago. Though that was her intended effect, she couldn’t bear to see it so she turned his face back to her, kissed his cheek and added: "Let’s take this slow, ok? Let’s enjoy tonight, meet tomorrow morning, and see where it goes from there?"

He kissed her forehead and nodded, "It’s more than I could have hoped for a half hour ago."

As he was walking her home later that evening she reflected on their night. She’d stayed by his side for the rest of the evening. He introduced her to his various colleagues and she made light conversation. When she felt him growing tense or terse with any particular group, she would steer them back to Charles and Georgiana for a social rest. He seemed reluctant to let go of her. If she wasn’t resting her hand in the crook of his arm he would lightly place a hand on the small of her back or squeeze her hand, all gestures that a month ago she might have viewed as possessive and presumptuous. Tonight she realized that he did so more out of comfort than anything else.

Charles’s sister, Caroline, had made her way into the party fashionably late and immediately tried to latch on to Darcy’s arm and pull him away from Elizabeth’s side. For the first time Elizabeth was the one to grab his hand and squeeze earning her a grateful look from Darcy and a death glare from Caroline. Looking back, she couldn’t believe the woman’s presumption, to hang off of a man in front of his date like that.

Elizabeth stopped and Darcy looked at her questioningly. "Did we just have our first date?" She asked him.

"It sure felt that way to me," he said, smiling more broadly than she’d ever seen him smile before and slipping his arm around her waist. Then he added more sheepishly, "I was afraid that if I said something sooner it might break the spell and you’d leave."

"I stayed by your side of my own volition tonight. No magic required," she quipped and he gave her such an intense look that she thought he might kiss her right there ... on the sidewalk framed by the fluorescent glow of the late night burger joint’s front window. She felt it was best to lighten the mood for a bit so she started walking again, tugging on his arm for him to follow. "You do realize that this means that Georgiana asked me out on our first date."

"I, for one am glad she did. Who knows how long I would have waited, but can you blame a guy for being cautious after my first disastrous attempt?"

"Perhaps not."

When they reached her house, he very properly walked her to the door. This time she didn’t stop him as he scorched her with that intense gaze and leaned slowly forward, pulling her in for their first real kiss in the relative privacy of her doorway. The frantic barking from the other side of the door pulled them apart and she smiled up at him and said, "I’ll see you tomorrow morning."

"Eight o’clock" he confirmed as he placed on last chaste kiss on her lips.

Elizabeth unlocked her door and entered her house where she proceeded to tell her girls all about her evening. Lydia and Kitty were the most energetic in their response, Jane sat there quietly and wagged her tail contentedly, and Mary just lumbered her way back to her bed, unimpressed with the Romance of it all.

Chapter 11: The Chase

William arrived at the park at seven forty five the following morning, unable to hold off any longer. He smiled as he recognized Elizabeth’s car in the sparsely filled parking lot. Last night had been so perfect he thought it might be a dream. Elizabeth wanted to spend more time with him. She’d stayed with him all evening, she’d kissed him back! He knew that she wanted to take things slowly, but his mind was racing forward rapidly. This was the first conclusive sign that Elizabeth reciprocated his feelings even a little and it was hard not to imagine all of the possibilities for the future.

These pleasant thoughts were interrupted by a scream that sounded horrifyingly like Elizabeth. Before he could make it out of his car, George Wickham came running out of the park with his dog following behind, his muzzle stained with blood. They got into a beat up blue Ford Taurus. Darcy’s stomach dropped and he and Bingley ran to the gate. Elizabeth was sobbing while another woman ... Maddie something ... held her and two others ran off towards the high grass at the far end of the park. "Good God, what is the matter!" He cried as he reached her, frantically checking her for wounds. "Elizabeth, are you ok? Are you injured?" He asked as he drew her into his arms. Maddie moved off to calm the dogs.

"It’s Lydia ..." Elizabeth cried as she tried to calm herself. "She went up to him and took his toy, he got angry and just picked her up like a stuffed animal. He ran off with her back there..." she gestured to the tall grass where the others were searching. We saw him shake her then ... Wickham, called him off and Killer came back covered in blood but without Lydia. I have to go find her!"

Darcy’s fists clenched at the thought that Wickham and his beast had hurt someone else he loved, but now was the time for action. He needed to find Lydia and look out for Elizabeth, she couldn’t be the one to find her if the worst had happened. "Elizabeth, you stay here and try to keep Kitty, Jane and Mary calm, I’ll go help look for Lydia."

He turned and was off towards the high grass. That dog was so tiny, and the area so vast but he would be here till dusk searching if that’s what it took. As he combed through the grass, he pulled out his phone and searched for the police non-emergency line to report the incident. There were currently witnesses but who knew how long these people would remain here.

He was in the process of describing the car they drove off in to the operator when he heard a faint whimpering. The operator assured him that they’d send an officer over to take the report and he quickly ended the call, swiftly moving towards the sound. She was injured – she had a large bite mark around her middle that was bleeding and she almost certainly had broken ribs if not internal damage and was having some trouble breathing – but she was still alive. He took off his scarf and gently wrapped her up in it, trying to minimize how much he jostled her.

~~~

Elizabeth sat near the gate holding a frantic Kitty who was desperately trying to go off in search of Lydia. Jane and Mary sat somberly on either side of her like sentinels. She sat there for what felt like hours, though the clock on her phone improbably told her only about 20 minutes had passed as Darcy and the others searched for Lydia. She knew they were right, nobody else would be able to calm Kitty right now, and she was too emotionally attached to be very useful. She knew all of this but it was killing her to sit there idly doing nothing while Lydia was lost and hurt. Elizabeth’s heart sunk lower as she realized that she must be badly hurt at the least otherwise she’d have come back by now, or been barking up a storm.

She jumped up with a start when that beautiful deep baritone voice called out: "I’ve got her." Within a minute Darcy was gently handing her over to Elizabeth as carefully as he could and Elizabeth let out a shuddering breath to see that Lydia was at least alive. "She’ll need medical attention," he said in that brusque style that used to irritate her so thoroughly but now that commanding tone was comforting.

"The clinic will be closed, but Charlotte will be at the shelter and they’ve got facilities there," Elizabeth said as she got out her phone and called Charlotte to come in early to the shelter for an emergency, giving her a brief summary of the events and the extent of her injuries.

Maddie Goulding dashed back from the parking lot, waiving a file box. "Put her in here for the drive, it’ll help minimize further injuries." Elizabeth was hesitant to put her down but realized it would be safer. Darcy’s hand was on the small of her back leading her to the parking lot. Before she knew it she was seated in the passenger side of Maddie’s car, with Darcy leaning into the open door stammering about wishing he could do more to comfort her but before she could respond the door was closed and she was watching him get smaller as Maddie backed out. It would be easier to comfort me if he stuck with me in a crisis, she thought selfishly.

She shook her head and looked around, and saw a stack of folders strewn across the back seat. "Where are the other dogs?" She asked with a start, embarrassed that she’d been so preoccupied with Lydia that she’d essentially just abandoned the other three.

"Jenny will walk Lucky home while I take you to the shelter, Darcy’s watching your dogs. He’s waiting for the cops to file a report and making sure people either stick around or give him contact information so everyone can give a statement." Elizabeth felt guilty for doubting him, even in her head. Of course he’d be managing everything, that’s just how he was.

It didn’t take long to arrive at the shelter and Elizabeth had her seat belt off before the car was even in park. Charlotte, ready to go in a pair of paw print scrubs, met her at the door with a quick hug. She took Lydia and headed to the small clinic in the back. Elizabeth tried to follow her in but Charlotte blocked the door. "I know you know better than this Elizabeth, Tina’s here to assist me, I’ve got things under control. You’re too close to this and you can’t be in here." Elizabeth merely nodded and backed away.

For a while she sat in the small waiting room in the hard plastic chairs and the flickering fluorescent light. By the third time Mr. Collins came out to tell her how unusual it was to bring a personal pet in to the shelter for medical attention and how much Catherine DeBurgh would disapprove of wasting the shelter’s resources in such a way she lost her temper. "Mr. Collins, I have volunteered at this shelter nearly every weekend for the last four years. At the hourly rate for my services at the clinic, I’d say I’m contributing over a hundred grand per year to the efficient running of this shelter. My best friend is currently volunteering her time to save an injured animal. If you want to talk to me about the the price for lap pads and medications you may do so at a later date, but if you say one more word to me about it today you can find yourself another behaviorist!" She then stormed out of the room and went looking for work to keep her busy.

Chapter 12: Reunion

Several hours later, Darcy finally made his way to the shelter to check in on Elizabeth. It had taken over an hour for the officer to show up, another hour to take down all of the statements – Darcy insisted on being the last to give a statement so that the others could leave and so that he could share more details about George and Killer’s past actions – then he dropped by his house to drop the dogs off with Georgiana before stopping to pick up lunch for Elizabeth and finally making his way back to her.

He was intercepted in the waiting room by Mr. Collins, "Mr. Darcy, we are honored indeed to have such an esteemed guest to our humble establishment. May I presume you are here as an ambassador for your aunt, Mrs. Catherine DeBurgh?"

"No, I’m here to see how Lydia and Elizabeth are doing."

"Ah, yes. That is an uncomfortable business. You see, it is a highly irregular circumstance for a volunteer to abuse the shelter’s resources for the care of a personal pet. I am sure that you will join me in censuring Ms. Bennet for her impropriety, especially as she had a rather unprofessional and hysterical reaction when I happened to mention it to her."

"You confronted a woman who has personally both volunteered her expertise and contributed to fundraising efforts for your organization for asking a favor of a friend when her dog is gravely injured?" William’s voice shook with barely suppressed rage as he hovered over the obnoxious sycophant in front of him.

"Why yes," Collins said meekly, shifting himself behind the counter, "it would not be good business to be squandering our limited resources in such a way."

"This," William gestured around him, "is not a business, it is a not for profit whose function is to save animals in need. And when your colleague, the best friend of your girlfriend, has a crisis you lecture her? Has she refused to pay for the resources required?"

"Well, no. She said I could discuss them with her at a later date. Though in her hysterical fit she also threatened to stop volunteering if I did so today. Women can be so emotional."

William saw that it was pointless to try reasoning with this man so he tried a different tact, "I have a proposition for you. When all of this is over, you may send me a bill for the materials used. I will include an additional five thousand dollar donation to the shelter if you agree to never speak so dismissively of Ms. Bennet again. She is a professional who is not only more qualified than you but also has more empathy for the animals in your care than you can even pretend to have. If I find that you do not live up to this agreement, I will inform my aunt and all of my friends – you know, the ones with the large checkbooks that attended the ball – about your shady business practices and your callous disregard for animals."

Mr. Collins stood there with his mouth agape for a moment before he quietly agreed. "Good, now, where can I find Elizabeth?"

"She’s back in the kennels working." At Darcy’s glare Collins added, "she said she wanted to keep busy to keep her mind off of Lydia!"

~~~

Socializing the more difficult animals was one of her roles at the shelter, but given today’s drama, Elizabeth found it oddly soothing. Animals didn’t have to turn out like Killer, she could make a difference. She could prevent this from happening to another family. She had just returned a particularly surly dachshund to her cage when Charlotte emerged.

"She’s stable. That is one scrappy little pup you’ve got there she had several broken ribs and a pneumothorax – a collapsed lung – as well as a couple of puncture wounds from the teeth, but she was still licking my hand before we put her under. We’ve extracted the excess air and bandaged her up for now. She’s going to need some oxygen and observation for about 24 hours and pain meds, rest, and a cone of shame for about a week. It’ll still be a while before she starts coming off of the anesthesia."

"Should I take her to the animal hospital for observation? Does she need to be admitted?"

"No need! I’m disgusted with my boyfriend and don’t want to even see him right now, so you’ve got an in-home vet for the night at least."

"Oh no, did he start in on you too?"

"Oh, as soon as I got off the phone with you this morning," Charlotte rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Then I went looking for you in the waiting room and heard him trying to tell Mr. tall dark and can’t peel his eyes off you about your ’hysterical’ outburst and how ’emotional’ women are. I left just as your boyfriend was offering to pay for today’s materials and a donation if Collins promised never to be so disrespectful to you again. I’m pretty sure your boyfriend could kick my boyfriend’s butt."

"When did Darcy get here?" Elizabeth said, brightening a bit.

"About ten minutes ago, but I’ve been dealing with that Oaf," he said from behind her and she turned and melted into his embrace. "Sorry," he said to Charlotte with a grimace.

"Nope, insult him at will, I’m fed up with him myself at the moment."

"How’s Lydia?" He asked.

"She’ll be ok," Charlotte replied, "but I’ll let Lizzy fill you in. I’ll come find you when Lydia wakes up."

As Charlotte walked away, Elizabeth explained what was happening with Lydia. Once that was done she nestled further in and whispered, "thank you," into his chest. "Thank you for dealing with the police, and taking care of everything, and for bribing Collins into respecting me ... although I doubt that’s a viable long-term solution."

His chuckle reverberated through her, "you weren’t supposed to hear about that part." He kissed the top of her head and continued, "I’m just glad I could be there to help you. How are you holding up?"

"As well as can be expected. I’m being extra loving to all of my problem dogs today, with the right socialization and environment, they don’t have to end up like Killer."

"Have I told you how amazing you are?"

"Not in so many words, though I hear you told Collins."

~~~

That evening, Darcy knocked on Elizabeth’s door holding four leashes. Earlier he’d dropped Elizabeth, Charlotte, and a very sleepy Lydia off at Elizabeth’s car with an agreement to meet them back at Elizabeth’s place in a half hour with the other dogs. When she opened the door she teased: "Look at you, Mr. CEO walking around in jeans with a herd of dogs like a common dog walker." Darcy merely smiled at her, content, and kissed her cheek. "It seems you’ve returned me an extra dog," she said patting Bingley’s head.

"He was so sad when Jane had to leave that I let him come along for the ride."

"Well, now that he’s already here, it would be a shame to disappoint him."

"Elizabeth Bennet," he said in mock indignation, "are you saying you want to steal my dog?"

"William," she said, stepping through the crowd of dogs to snuggle against him, "I’m saying you should stay."

"Are you sure?"

"I don’t want to be alone after the day I’ve had."

"What about Charlotte?"

"She’s set up in the guest bedroom with Lydia."

"Elizabeth ... I know you’re too kind to toy with me. If your feelings are still what they were in February, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged."

"Good," Elizabeth said breaking into a gorgeous smile and giving him a quick kiss, "because my feelings have changed rather drastically."



The End

Author's Note: I'm so so sorry, I've had this finished for months and I just forgot to upload the end. I'm a monster for leaving you all hanging! I hope you all enjoyed the ending. I might eventually write an epilogue.
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Paws and Prejudice Chapters 9-12 (end)

MorganAJune 19, 2019 11:18PM

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