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Ebb and Flow

Chapter Sixteen

Dearest reader,

This chapter speaks of silence, and the breaking of silence. I've always been struck by the interplay of silence, the spoken word, and the hidden communication subtexts in J. A.'s P&P. This has been one of the hardest chapters to write... To help myself out with all the angst, I have quoted passages from one of my favorite "silent" poems; Long- legged Fly.

William is Caesar, planning his history making campaign; any disturbing noise will alter the course of his upcoming battle. Elizabeth is Helen of Troy as a child, her future and that of many men around her, depends on how she changes from child to woman. And finally, Michelangelo works in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, his silence must be undisturbed if his art is to be unspoiled, and his rendering of man explored.

...Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
and men recall that face,
Move most gently if you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practice a tinker shuffle
Picked upon a street.
Like a long - legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.

...There on the scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

by William Butler Yeats.

Amandari Resort, Bali, Indonesia: Ultra-luxury resort, overlooking Ayung River Gorge near Ubud. Renowned for its tranquility, private pools, villas, and peaceful evocative setting.

Amandari's name , translated into English, stood for peaceful spirits. Peace was the last thing on Darcy's mind as he stood beneath the outdoor pagoda. His eyes were filled with scattered reflective ponds, exotic fragrant gardens, and the stilling airs of the river valley and terraced fields; and peace did not come. Here he was in paradise, land of tranquility and serenity, and it all felt empty, meaningless.

Throughout his life, he had been surrounded by beauty - accepted it as a given, a constant; it was there when he awoke , it enveloped him at night. None of it came close to Elizabeth's beauty, the depth of emotion he had experienced in her arms. His perception of beauty had been irrevocably altered, crossing into a completely different dimension. Whereas before he had been an observer of the canvas, when with her, he was pigment, texture, color - he was the canvas. Is this what great artists experienced? Did they become one with their work? A recollection floated through his mind; him, as a little boy, looking up at Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel, glimpsing the power, the glory, in awe. With Elizabeth, the same sensation became amplified exponentially - each touch, each look, sent him reeling. And so, peace eluded him, while silence enveloped him like a shroud.

The Indonesian deal had fallen through - not for lack of trying on Pemberley's part. The primary competition had been Meryton. The small company had assembled an elite team of experts and outmaneuvered Pemberley; offering a superior product, faster turnaround time, and the promise of exceptional customer support. They had beaten Pemberley at their own game, and had followed the rule book.

William was impressed - his respect for Tom Bennet had grown - and began replacing the bitterness of their previous legal battle. Thankfully, neither Bennet nor Wickham had been present in Indonesia - William was unsure how he would have handled a face to face meeting with either man. Yes, Bennet ran a class act, as long as he was at the helm, that little gem of an upstart would continue to thrive. Usually, such a loss would deflate him - yet, he felt strangely elated. Meryton's recent success was a balm on his mind, it negated Pemberley's win in the lawsuit. The battle was on even ground again. And this was of utmost importance to Darcy, to his integrity. Meryton and Elizabeth were inexorably linked in his mind, and he no longer wanted the competition to suffer. In fact, he hoped with all his heart, that they would succeed.

Elizabeth... his mind wandered back to that secret place. It had been five weeks, and still no calls, no communication from either of them... silence. Could she have lost interest? Or was she, like him, paralyzed? The irony struck him; here they were , both excellent communicators in their respective fields, and neither could make the first move in their personal lives. Come on Darcy - get a hold of yourself man. Pick up the damn phone...

Six weeks went by... Elizabeth returned to work, having taken a few days off after that fateful phone message. Each week had witnessed a new resolution, new understanding, she was becoming stronger. She had reached a decision about the pregnancy; she would bring this child into the world and provide it with a loving and caring home, with or without William's support. She knew a confrontation was inevitable - but resolved to approach it in a responsible and measured manner. To accomplish this effectively, she needed to overcome the last remnants of her anger and grief.

Standing by her were Fitz, Jane and Madeline. She had not approached the rest of her family with the news, yet. A careful strategy was required - and to date, it eluded her.

Fitz... what a wonderful friend he had become. At first, in light of his declaration, she had felt awkward. It had been a complete shock to her system. But little by little, she mellowed and agreed to proceed extremely cautiously with their relationship. They saw each other most evenings. Fitz, making sure Elizabeth was getting her rest, her sleep. He nurtured, listened - offering thoughtful advice - and she flourished under his gentle friendship. Jane, on the other hand, had surprised her. Fun - loving , hedonistic Jane, had surfaced as her protector; a lioness shielding her cub from danger. Between Fitz's sweet caring, Jane's guard, and Madeline's stolid support, Elizabeth felt herself surrounded by an unconditionally loving circle. She felt safe, warm, and she mended.

It was a glorious spring Sunday, the lilac and magnolia trees in full sensual bloom. Fitz, as usual, arived first thing in the morning - carrying a Starbucks decaf latte for Elizabeth. It had become a familiar indulgence on the weekends.

"Come on Lizzie - we're going for a walk - it's too beautiful to stay indoors."

She smiled up at him .

"I've got to feed Mr. Collins first, he's been trailing me all morning."

Mr. Collins looked back at them, a paunchy cat - sitting back on rounded haunches, cleaning his paws.

"Don't you think he's getting a trifle fat, it can't be good for him."

She laughed. God, it was good to ear that laugh again.

"It makes two of us Fitz, in case you haven't noticed, I've been growing as well."

He looked at her appraisingly - she did seem different, fuller about the face, her skin glowed. To Fitz, she seemed more resplendent than usual. He felt achingly ambivalent about her pregnancy. To date, neither she or Jane had divulged the name of the man. In his mind, he'd created a picture of some cruel, elusive, and heartless rake. He so wanted to find the man, circle his hands around his neck and slowly, deliberately, strangle him. Such brutal imagery was so unlike Fitzwilliam, yet so telling of his suffering.

Silence surrounded him, a warm cloak - he sat on the teak terrace, cushions strewn about him - listening to the sounds of the Balinese night. Thinking. Pondering. Assessing. It wasn't until the night settled about him that he realized and understood his mistake - grave error indeed. Silence as shelter, silence as familiar comfort, silence had become a weapon and it had wrought damage.

The truth lanced him painfully, his silence had hurt her - it had hurt them. Over the years, his aloof, distant silence had mistakenly provided protection, allowed him to wander outside of the circle - a detached observer- lurking in the shadows. Now he faced an impasse; stay, and remain the observer, or step in, and do battle. Like the general, before a war, he analyzed, he calculated and for the first time since his mother's death - he chose the battle - with himself.

He called.

"Hello..."

"It's William Darcy."

"William... it's Jane," a cold furious voice answered, sending chills down his spine.

"Is Elizabeth home?"

"No. She's out."

"Oh."

"Why the hell are you calling her?"

"Pardon?"

"How dare you call her again, you bastard, after everything that's happened! Do you think you can just waltz back in her life and sweep her off her feet! You are a sick and twisted man, Darcy!"

"Jane, what are you talking about?"

"What are YOU talking about William? Don't you remember your previous call, those scathing words, that derogatory tone?"

"Please, Jane, there's been some horrible mistake, I never called before... until now."

'F-CK OFF, William!!! I heard it myself! Get out of our lives! Goodbye."

"JANE!!!..." Perhaps it was the desperation, perhaps it was the utter desolation - but the tone of his voice froze her in her tracks. Something rang true in his voice, she had to find out what it was.

"O.K. You've got exactly two minutes of my time - this better be good.

"Jane, please, this is the first time I've called. I - I just couldn't muster up the courage... I was scared...I didn't want anything to change... I..."

Silence.

Jane was stunned - the impenetrable William Darcy, admitting to fear? He must be telling the truth, and it was costing him. She could feel it. Her mind whirred furiously.

"Did you call anyone else from Indonesia?"

"Just my assistant, Anne... and Wickham at Meryton."

"WICKHAM!" She was shouting now.

"Well, yes... someone from Meryton was repeatedly calling me at Pemberley... and I assumed it was him... I gave him a piece of my mind - I told him..." Why on earth was he telling her all this, yet something compelled him to continue. "I told him... that our relationship was over... we used to be friends you see... and I never wanted to see him again."

Silence.

"Jane, are you still there? Jane..."

"Oh. Shit!... William... It all makes sense now."

"What are you talking about?"

"Look it's very complex. I need to speak to you in person... Listen, when do you fly back...This Thursday?... Look, Lizzie is in a bad state, somehow your message to Wickham ended up on our machine. She thought you had broken off ... William... are you still there?... It was Lizzie who was trying to reach you at Pemberley. No. You must not speak to her yet... she's too upset... why don't you and I meet when you get back and I'll explain everything... Hey.. I'm sorry... about calling you all those names... but you still have some explaining to do... and until I'm satisfied... you're not getting anywhere near her... see you Thursday... I'll meet you at the airport.. William... Thank God you called."

Fitz and Elizabeth wandered among the paths lining the lake. The spring air was sweet and bracing. She turned to him and said quietly.

"I've started running again... Fitz... it feels good."

He stopped and caressed her cheek, there was so much of the child in her yet, part woman, part child - therein lay her beauty to Fitz. Its very polarity was mesmerizing.

"Lizzie I have a big favor to ask of you... our family is holding a black tie event at Langdon Hall in Cambridge... it's a weekend long affair."

"Cambridge, England?"

He laughed. "No. Langdon Hall - the country manor outside of Cambridge, Ontario - It's something we do every year, a large family gathering of the Matlocks, Fitzwilliams, deBourghs... the venue changes yearly - but the underlying sentiment remains the same -we're a big sprawling family , and we love a good party. This year , my aunt decided on a formal affair. Would you do me the honor of accompanying me?"

She looked at him quizzically. Eyebrows arched, questioning... they had a pact... to move slowly... He understood.

"I'll arrange separate rooms of course... and introduce you as my work colleague."

"Fitz, how can I say no to you, you've been so good to me... of course I'll go - when is it?'

He looked at her sheepishly. "This Friday, I waited till the last minute, I was afraid you'd say no."

"Oh. That soon? I don't have anything to wear - that fits - anymore."

An idea struck him. "Liz, why don't we take you shopping today - to Toronto - I'll get you something to wear, my way of saying thanks for accompanying mes"

She'd never realized how much fun it would be to shop for evening wear with Fitz. They drove into Toronto, and meandered about the ritzy shops on Bay and Bloor. Fitz was comically ruthless with his fashion advice - the sales help found him charming. Elizabeth lost herself in the frivolity of the moment. To her horror, she realized her figure had blossomed in a most Rubenesque manner. Fitz did his best to humor her.

"Look - breasts are good - they're in style now - cleavage is in - you just need some creative engineering and hardware to hold it all up."

She muffled a giggle, and they continued on their way. A last stop was Holt Renfrew -home to the swankiest designer labels Toronto offered its social denizens. He dragged her up to the designer collections.

"Fitz, I can't afford these things..." She protested.

"Since I'm the one imposing on you here, why don't you pay for the bottom and I'll spring for the top!" His eyes twinkled mischievously.

Settling himself in a comfortable chair, he awaited her exit from the dressing room. She came out and took his breath away. The black strapless Oscar de la Renta bustier cinched her waist and provocatively displayed her bountiful cleavage. A silk, layered chiffon skirt moved wispily as she walked, the ensemble was simple, elegant and stunning.

"Come here Liz, let's test it out."

"What do you mean by testing?"

"Lean forward, take a deep breath, wiggle around and here, sit down... goood... the engineering's faultless... you will not spill out... I promise."

She sashayed back to the dressing room, shaking her head in bemusement. The sales clerk turned to Fitz.

"Your wife is a beautiful woman , sir."

He paused, then replied, "Yes, indeed she is."

Over dinner that evening, Elizabeth turned to him.

"I've had a marvelous day, you make me happy..."

He took her hand in his and gently offered, "You deserve to be happy."

That night on her doorstep, Fitz and Elizabeth kissed. She felt safe and content in his arms - he didn't engulf her in a demanding, no holds barred way - there was a gentle dignity to his caring ways. A sense of peace, of inner calm and comfort began filtering in.

Chapter Seventeen: Part One

"Love is all
Unsatisfied
That cannot take the whole
Body and soul";
And that is what Jane said.

From Crazy Jane on the Day of Judgement by William Butler Yeats.

Circular Incision: two ounces Scotch, half ounce Drambuie, half ounce Dry Vermouth. Fill shaker half full with ice. Pour all ingredients into shaker and shake well. Strain drink into a cocktail glass, garnish with lemon twist and serve.

She recognized him immediately. Actually, it was his dark shadow through the frosted security pane, a dominant grouping of gray shapes coalescing into the tall, athletic build now familiar to her. He strode out, towering over the weary group of travelers , skin glowing like burnished bronze, dark curls framing a taut facial mask. He looked tense, rigid and poised, as if for battle. William Darcy - You'd better not battle with me over this one...Jane thought, bracing herself for the encounter.

Then he caught sight of her blond hair. Her eyes fixed on his, and the mask disintegrated - replaced by sudden relief, insistent and pleading; a look tinged by such complete sorrow that she sheathed her ready weapons and stood calmly waiting for him to cross the concourse, luggage in tow.

They stood still, facing each other, not speaking. Silence.

She was momentarily overwhelmed by his sheer height, his imposing raw masculinity. He was taken aback by the resemblance in her eyes and in the curve of her chin, to his darling Elizabeth. Silently, he pleaded for her understanding, her forgiveness - and then remembered - he'd relinquished his old silent ways.

Tentatively, he stepped forward - leaving the sentinel pile of luggage behind him. And Jane felt herself enfolded in a desperate and overwhelming embrace. She had never had a brother, but surely, this was what it must feel like - brotherly, caring, considerate. Tears stung her eyes, but she held them in check. Extricating herself from his hold, she looked up at him.

"You must be exhausted from your flight."

"It's been twenty hours, I've lost track of the time zones..." His voice was low, husky, unused.

"Where are you staying?"

"Here, at the Hyatt. Then I'm off to a family gathering tomorrow."

"Listen, why don't you check in, refresh yourself - and we can meet up at the lobby - if you can stay awake..."

"Will you come with me, please...?" he asked softly.

Taken aback by his tone, she acquiesced. The faster we get this over with, the better.

She waited in the living room of his suite; taking in the expensive lines of his calfskin luggage, the Armani tag peeking out of a black wool blazer flung carelessly on the sofa. Yes, baby, you have style, but what about the substance my little sister deserves?

She sensed his presence , a fresh woodsy scent, before he stepped in the room. Black curls dampened from the shower, clung to his forehead, his white shirt open at the neck, revealed that maddening tuft of hair, and the jeans, snugly molded - worn in all the right places. You are all man, William Darcy. Here in the room, with distractions kept at bay, she clearly understood her sister's attraction to him.

He began pacing the patterned carpet, long legs, longer strides, animal-like, feral. Observing him silently, she recognized an athletic kindred spirit, his desperate need to decompress. At length, he settled on a chair, across from her. She waited for him to speak.

"Jane... thank you for coming here... you took time off work."

Locking her eyes onto his, she launched the first missile, "It was important. I love my sister."

"I love your sister too," he answered quietly.

"You sure have a funny way of demonstrating it, William!"

"I'm not used to this..."

"What? Being interrogated or showing love?" she asked sarcastically.

"Both."

Before Jane could counter, he continued, "I've had a lot of time to think in Indonesia... and I realize I've made a grave mistake... actually several mistakes... and I'm sorry... but more than anything... I love her..."

"Words are cheap William! Six weeks of not calling someone you supposedly love, speaks volumes. What the HELL did you think you were doing? She tried to reach you five times!"

"I know that now, I checked with Anne... I don't know what to say."

"Well you better come up with something good...'Cause I don't have all day."

Something was not right, he could feel it, taste it, a metallic bitter tang. Instinctively, William knew pieces of the puzzle were missing, integral pieces. Why was Jane donning this warrior stance with him, to protect Elizabeth? Was Elizabeth unable to look out for herself? If so, why? His jaw tightened, his body straightened, he leaned forward, an undercurrent of menace rippled through him.

"There is a whole lot more to this story... right, Jane?"

She noticed the change in him - the tightening... Shit! He is more insightful than I thought! She was torn, trapped in the room, facing him, she could feel her earlier determination ebbing away, replaced by indecision. How much should I really tell him? What would Lizzie want me to do? Another voice answered, Lizzie would be furious that you were here in the first place. Sensing her indecision, he changed gears.

"Look, this must be very hard for you... but I need to know everything... Please."

William never begged, his previous nature simply had not allowed it. He had pleaded with Jane earlier on the phone - he was pleading again. What was left of his ego, contracted yet again, and folded into a vestige of its former self.

"She's pregnant." Her voice cracked. Hold it together girl...

His eyes dimmed, hooded... and closed . William retreated. His breathing softened into a shallow, sorrowfully cadenced rhythm. Gone was the feral, potent and powerful animal; replaced in his stead by a shattered, fragmented man , defenseless in his anguish. The magnitude of his actions and inactions took hold, and took flight. He buried his face in the safety of his hands and let his body reverberated with the tremors and quakes of his grief.

She had not expected this reaction. Nothing had prepared her for this degree of grievous suffering.He was unraveling in front of her very eyes... He truly loves her... Jane, do something, girl...

Her maternal instincts took over. She stood by him, reached out and gently stroked his hair. Mother to son, sister reaching out to brother - and in the softness of that touch he knew he had the beginnings of her forgiveness. His arm reached out and circled her midriff, his beautiful head rested on her muscular belly and racked by sorrow and silent sobs, he poured himself out - onto her. She stood, tall and straight, absorbing his pain - soothingly stroking his curls.

"Husshh... William... shhhh... it's all right..."

He held on to her; a broken sailor grasping the solid mast, storm raging about him. And in the tears followed, she the woman, comforted the man-child. Minutes trailed by. Finally depleted, he looked up at her - without shame, without embarrassment, and began talking.

"Please... tell me everything."

"After you left - she found out she had missed her period..."

"Was she not taking precautions... I thought being a physician..."

"William, she's not stupid! Yes, she was on the pill, but she missed two of them... hold on here... do you mean to tell me the two of you did not discuss this?"

"No." He looked guilt stricken.

Jane could feel her anger rising again. "She had blood tests done and they confirmed the pregnancy - that's when she tried calling you."

He shut his eyes and sighed. "And the messages must have gotten confused, and somehow Wickham got involved."

His tone sharpened, intensified. "Leave Wickham to me, Jane."

"Actually - I would love to - he's a dirty rotten scoundrel and deserves to be skinned alive. I can see that's your territory - so, yes - you have my permission to beat the shit out of him."

"So, she thinks... I've broken off everything... and she's carrying our... baby."

"That sums it up - except, William - there's more - lots more..."

What point was there in holding anything back right now?

"More?"

"Imagine yourself in her situation. She's devastated, crushed! Between the pregnancy and your abandonment - the girl just about stopped functioning. But... Lizzie is remarkably strong, in fact my sister is an amazing woman."

"I know."

Her anger turned from a flare to fiery rage. She pushed him away from her, disgust lacing her voice.

"No! You don't know! And that is your problem! You have not taken the time to get to know her. The two of you played out some romantic fantasy, a dangerous game of seduction. My sister is more than a great F-CK William! Do - you- understand?"

He felt bruised, battered, and deep down knew he deserved every punch thrown his way. He raised his hand, palm up, in supplication.

"Please... stop... for a moment..."

Jane retreated, sat back on the couch and observed him in silence; arms crossed defiantly, one leg swinging angrily on the other. Men! And their bloody primal needs!

"What I meant ... is that ... the Elizabeth I know is an amazing and strong woman. I know enough of her , to cherish her strength, her intellect, her energy - her beauty - and her spirit. You're wrong, Jane, it's not just the physical intimacy that attracts us. When we're together... I feel there's this synergy, a greatness, which outshines the some of both of our parts. Some sort of destiny... I'm at a loss for words... it's as if she's a star and I'm a comet hurtling toward her... and we fuse... and there's this light..." His voice lowered itself to a trembling timber, "She's so much more than a great f-ck... and please.. don't ever say that again about your sister - she doesn't deserve it."

That's more like it William... "O.K. Sorry... Sorry... I got carried away... I promise I won't use that word again... look... where did you say you were going tomorrow?"

What did that have to do with anything? William pondered.

"Family reunion outside of Cambridge, Langdon Hall"

"Fuck!" She hissed out.

"Jane, you promised not to use that word again." He smiled wanly.

"Sorry. She will be there too."

He locked his eyes onto hers, disbelieving.

"Why?"

"Fitz asked her to go."

His eyes grew wide. "Dr. Richard Fitzwilliam?"

Now it was her turn to be surprised. "Yes, you've heard of him?"

"He's my cousin, we grew up together."

"FU... Oh, Sorry.... Damn! This is getting too complicated - I'm just a phys-ed teacher, you know... never took courses in this stuff."

"What are you talking about?"

"Your cousin and Lizzie have been friends for years. I think he's had a crush on her for some time - and since that phone call they have gotten closer."

"WHAT! How much closer?" he growled springing up and started pacing again.

"Whoa! Get a grip, William, it's not that serious, yet, from what I know. She's very vulnerable right now, and he's been a great friend."

"I can't believe this...."

"Look, you can't beat Fitz to a pulp, that's for Wickham only, alright? Why don't we take a break from this, have something to eat, and discuss the matter in a civil way."

He looked up at her, confused, fragmented , head spinning with shock and anger. She was right.

They had dinner, then talked for hours.

Finally, exhausted and depleted, they parted. William, feeling as if he had been cut open, eviscerated, then organs rearranged, sewn back together. Jane, satisfied - very satisfied - that the man her sister had chosen was indeed full of substance, more than she had imagined, and very much in love with her. Her task completed, she now hoped that fate and the Gods would look kindly upon the two lovers. They deserved it.

Chapter Seventeen: Part Two

Weep No More: One ounce Dubonnet, one ounce Brandy, one ounce Lime Juice, several drops Maraschino Liqueur. Shake well with ice and strain into old fashioned glass. Add ice.

Dragging herself up the townhouse steps, Jane felt bone-weary, as if she'd run an exhausting race - but missed out on the endorphin high. That, girl, was an emotional marathon, and I'm not sure whether either you or William were the winners. She moved quietly through the hallway, stealing herself for another challenge.

Elizabeth was home. And she had Diana Krall's latest Jazz C.D. playing full blast. Always a good sign.

"Lizzie, I'm back," Jane bellowed, flopping on the denim covered sofa, and wincing as Mr. Collins jumped on her stomach.

"That is not a proper way to greet a lady, Mr. Collins, where are your manners?"

Elizabeth appeared in the doorway, ensconced in flannel pajamas, brushing her long curls.

"Why so late, Janey?"

Too exhausted to mince her words, Jane chose a straight and razor-edged approach.

"I just saw William - at the airport."

Elizabeth's hand stopped mid-stroke, hairbrush suspended in the air.

"Who?"

"Your William," Jane answered flatly.

"Why?"

"Lizzie - sit down - it's complicated."

"No, I think I'd rather stand."

"Fine, have it your way. He called - earlier this week from Bali. It turns out that there was a huge mistake. That phone call was meant for Wickham. In fact, sick, twisted Wickham taped the message and played it on our machine. He meant to make trouble for the two of you .... And he sure succeeded.... Liz, are you O.K.?"

Her sister swayed and staggered to the couch, answering through clenched teeth.

"I'm fine... please continue."

"William is absolutely devastated, he is so sorry for everything... he was afraid to call you and doesn't know why, yet... he truly cares for you Lizzie... and wants to make it up to you. It took us four agonizing hours to figure this all out. "

"Why did you not tell me that he had called?" Elizabeth questioned, disbelief and anger tingeing her tone. "No, let me guess, you were being the protective big sister, out on a reconnaissance trip... Jane you had no right!" Her voice rose. " You took over and barreled in without my permission!! This is my life! What else did you tell him... Oh. No... You didn't... not the pregnancy..."

The hairbrush went hurtling through the air, landing a mere foot away from a startled Mr. Collins.

"Did you tell him about Fitz and I?"

Jane just nodded her head - the enormity of her actions descending upon her like a shower of electrical sparks. Elizabeth's anger flared and raged on.

"Well that's great! Why don't you just stand in for me then! You have spent more time in earnest conversation with him then I have! And I'm carrying his baby!... No, better yet, why don't you become his soul mate and I'll just be on-call for the sex!"

"Lizzie, it's you he loves.... With me he's... like a brother."

"Great! Adopt him then! 'Cause I sure as hell won't."

"Lizzie, there's one more thing... he'll be there tomorrow night... Langdon Hall."

"WHAT?" Now she was yelling, furious at her sister and the barrage of unexpected news.

"Fitz and him are related, they're distant cousins."

"Jane... how much more of this crap am I supposed to endure!" She stormed out of the house, in her pajamas, slamming the door behind her. Hard.

Jane slumped back on the pillows, pulling Mr. Collins by the hind paws from beneath the couch . There, she had done it... all was out in the open. But at what cost? She and her sister had fought many small battles, but none of this magnitude. She understood Lizzie's anger... Jane stopped and sat up. Elizabeth was angry! Finally! For six weeks she had anguished, wallowed in misery, but never angered. Elizabeth was definitely angry, hot and bothered, her old energy was returning. Maybe the tongue lashing was a minor penance after all. And she would not venture far in her pajamas.

A few minutes passed... the front door burst open and shut again, with an infuriated bang. Elizabeth stormed in, hands on hips and squared off with her sister.

"Jane Bennet... you are possibly the most nosy, overbearing, overprotective and domineering big sister alive on this planet.... and... I... love you ....come here you silly woman."

She strode toward her and embraced her in a crushing hug. Then the tears fell, and flowed. Tension, relief, joy, spilled out as brown curls and blond straight strands intermingled, into one enmeshed pattern. Finally, disentangling herself, Elizabeth asked in a serious voice.

"Now tell me every single bloody word, and detail, of that four hour conversation, or I will strangle you."

"I'm awfully glad you're finally feeling better, little sister."

They curled up on the pillows and chatted, deliberated, for hours. It was well past midnight , when Jane ran out of words and thoughts, having reached her exhaustion threshold. She collapsed on the sofa and remained there for the rest of the night- a befuddled Mr. Collins - watching protectively over her.

Chapter Eighteen
.

O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

William Butler Yeats.

Dance With a Dream Cocktail: two ounces Brandy, Half an ounce Triple Sec, one teaspoon Anisette. In a shaker half-filled with ice cubes, combine all the ingredients. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Langdon Hall Country House Hotel: Classically elegant country house manor on two hundred acres of gardens and woodlands. Renowned for its French cuisine and British ambiance. Summer house for grand-daughter of John Jacob Astor. Restored and co-owned by architect, William Bennett. www.langdonhall.ca

The sound of crunchy gravel beneath the wheels of Fitz's car woke Elizabeth from a light slumber. Through a bleary haze, she focused on the expanding view before her. Ensconced in a woodland setting, stood Langdon Hall; classical white columns supporting traditional red brick, a manor home with strong clean lines and understated beauty. So this is where the performance, the dance, will unfold. She was feeling strangely dissociated; a detached observer of the drama that had become her life. Most puzzling, to Elizabeth, was an unsettling polarity; she felt drawn in by the shady promise of the unknown yet repelled by its very insecurity.

"Fitz, it's lovely," she ventured, feeling at a loss for words, unsure how to proceed through the tangled web of the situation.

"Aunt Catherine chose the location - she showed uncharacteristic restraint this year."

"Oh... so she usually displays more... flamboyant tastes?"

He laughed. "Now that, my dear, is an understatement."

From Fitz's vantage point, the drive had been light and easy. He extracted great comfort from the nearness of her presence; it was natural, unforced.

Despite her calm exterior, Elizabeth's mind hummed at a fevered pitch. When and how should I tell him about William? Jane's revelations had once again, changed the axis, the tilt of her world. He was back! And it had all been a grave mistake! He still cared...Yet, so many unknowns.

His reluctance to contact her was puzzling. She racked her brain for a satisfying explanation, but could not come up with any. Here she sat, six weeks pregnant, carrying the child of a man who was a complete enigma to her - surrounded by the friendship of a man who was all comfort and familiarity. Another split in the road - another set of excruciating decisions. What had she done to earn this turmoil? Stop playing the victim, Elizabeth. She chided herself. And so, the internal dialogue flowed within her. Externally poised, internally struggling, she stepped out of the car and onto the stage.

Their rooms were adjoining, connected by a handsomely carved door, standing wide open. They overlooked an expanse of perennials and trees within a walled garden, linked by a whimsical gate to a vegetable and herb kitchen garden and sparkling pool beyond. A restrained formality and comforting symmetry permeated each successive tableau. She trailed her fingers on the white softness of the bed sheets - Egyptian cotton- the finest...The feathered bed beckoned and she relaxed into its depths, glad for the momentary respite form the crowded caverns of her mind.

"Lizzie - it's time for tea...wake up sleepy head." Fitz shook her gently.

She opened her eyes surprised to find his tall form hovering above her, a beatific smile lighting his face.

"Some of the relatives are here already..."

"Would you mind if stayed behind... all of a sudden I feel somewhat queasy... must be that first trimester nausea."

Funny, he thought, she had never experienced it till now.

"How about I keep you company... till you feel better... the big gathering isn't till this evening."

"Really Fitz... It's quite alright... I can manage."

"No, I'll stay," he replied.

"Fine."

He settled himself beside her on the bed - crossed his arms behind his head and stretched his long limbs. "Aah... this is nice... much better than tea with Aunt Catherine."

"Tell me about your family," she began.

'Well... there's the Matlocks - that's my side. My aunt and uncle and their son Jonathan are here. My own father passed away some time ago... and mother stayed back in England this year."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear about your father... and I would have loved to meet your mom, she raised a fine boy."

He looked at her searchingly, then continued, " Aunt Catherine, the old paragon, means well - but it all gets lost in translation. Her daughter Anne is a gem, crisply efficient, sharp incisive mind - works for Pemberley."

A wave of nausea hit Elizabeth, bile rising in her throat; she could taste its bitter tang.

"Oh. And there's William, of course."

"William?" she asked in a strangely dissonant voice, nervously anticipating his next words.

"William Darcy - my cousin - we grew up together in England. Our families' estates were adjoining." A wistful look crossed his features. "We had an incredible childhood, Lizzie... the stuff little boys dream about. He went off to law school, and I chose medicine. You know, I've never told this to any one; but my first plan was to become a lawyer; knowing I'd be competing against him was daunting. He was always a little sharper, faster, stronger" he chuckled, " and usually got the girl... So I steered in another direction. He's a damn fine lawyer, brilliant business mind. Haven't seen much of him lately... You know, tonight feels real sweet... 'cause I have the most beautiful ... Lizzie are you alright?"

She had turned a horrible shade of green, jumped up off the bed and ran into the bathroom.

Shivering on the cold and cruel marble floor, she hugged her knees and let the waves wash over her. Fitz found her thus. The observant clinician within him realized this reaction was beyond pregnancy related nausea. He sat down beside her, focusing on the serpentine weavings of beige and white within the marble , noting a crack in one of the tiles, feeling a sense of impending doom settle upon him.

"You... have something to tell me... right?"

She nodded her head - staring, not seeing.

"Do you want to talk about it now?"

"I think I must."

And the words tumbled out, haltingly at first. She told her tale with brutal honesty, unsparingly, each word, each phrase, cleaving into Fitz's awareness with precise and deep slashes.

In blurting out her tale, she experienced a cleansing, a purging which left her feeling lighter, strangely calm. Her nausea receded.

Fitz remained still, his eyes focusing on the cracked marble, following its trajectory, from one corner to the other, over and over. At long last her voice came to a standstill and was replaced by silence. He swallowed hard, his mouth dry, teeth grinding on one another.

"This is one fu- - ing mess, Lizzie!"

"Fitz, I'm so sorry..."

"I'll see you tonight- the dinner begins at seven. I'm sure you can fend for yourself....I need a drink... badly."

"Fitz... you don't drink."

"There's always a first time."

He rose from the floor, his movements disjointed, and without a glance at her, strode out of the room, slamming the connecting door behind him. Hard.

She knocked gently on the oiled wood. No answer. She tried the handle - it gave way - with a soft click. She stood framed in the doorway. His tall, slim form, clad in a black tuxedo, stood staring out the window, glass of amber liquid swirling in his hand. Her eyes caught sight of a velvet box, carelessly thrown on the bed. The set of his shoulders spoke of resignation, anguish, anger. She crossed the room, her feet leaden, and stood behind him. He did not turn. She encircled her arms around his shoulders, and lay her cheek against the black softness. And she held him, tenderly, gently, lovingly.

"Fitz... we will always have our friendship... please."

He turned toward her, eyes slightly glazed, and held her at arm's length.

"You are a vision... I'm still allowed compliments right?" '

"Fitz..." she whispered, pleading.

He drew her close and kissed her chastely on the forehead. The smell of scotch overwhelmed her senses. Then he cradled her in his arms, and held her as if trying to cling to one last moment, the filaments of a final dream. And as he held her, a visceral sense of realignment settled in, pieces of some natural order fell back into place - precisely - each one fitting into the other. And a repetitive cadence, a metronome - like ticking, established itself in the bleakness of his heart.

"My dreams are..." he began.

"I know... I will tread softly..." she whispered back.

He waved toward the bed, " That's for you, on loan for tonight, it belonged to my grandmother."

She reached over and opened the box. A delicate antique necklace of rubies and diamonds stared back at her, mocking, taunting.

"Fitz... I can't..."

"Just for tonight, you'll have a small bit of me touching you... and hey... maybe they'll bring you luck."

He did not mention the matching ruby and diamond ring. It lay hidden in the recesses of his trunk, awaiting a moment that no longer was meant to be.

They walked up a pebbled path, connecting the Cloisters to the main house. Balmy breezes caressed their cheeks. Staff scurried about the back terrace, setting up tables and chairs, a white canopy. A reflective pond sparkled to one side, one could hear the gentle croaking of frogs on lily pads. Surrounding the natural display lay a lush forest. The current of tension and anticipation between the pair was palpable; its tentacles encircling both man and woman. They felt bound by its strength, yet separated by its somber timber.

Sounds of tinkling glasses, voices, laughter and strains of a baby grand, drifted toward the pair. Walking in, they were greeted by a cackling, insistent voice.

"Richard Fitzwilliam, come here this instant. How dare you miss high tea with your aunt! And who is that prettyish girl?"

"Aunt Catherine, meet Dr. Elizabeth Bennet, a... work colleague of mine." He bent down and kissed the withered, rouged cheek.

"Come closer girl... are those the Matlock rubies you're wearing?... Shocking... Richard what is the meaning of this?"

Elizabeth excused herself and slipped away, eyes roaming the room. She could hear Fitz's voice receding in the background. " Aunt... they are merely on loan."

She sensed him before her eyes could find him. Leaning back against a pillar, black Armani tuxedo hugging his broad shoulders, he was a study of calculated insouciance. The chandelier lights reflected off his dark hair, setting off his tan against the snowy white shirt. He wore a bland but taut expression, a small muscle twitching occasionally near his left jaw. Appearing to be listening to the conversation around him, he scanned the room for the fifth time that evening.

Then he saw her.

Their eyes met - locked - and held, as if poised in the arc of flight, countless unspoken messages traversing the distance between them across the crowded room. She swayed lightly on her feet, but held her ground. His heart swelled with pride at her resolve, her resilience, her shattering beauty. Suddenly, she felt Fitz's arm propelling her through the crowd, toward William

"Fitz... please."

She wanted to scream, yell... anything but cloak this meeting in cool politeness and civilities.

"You must allow me the pleasure of introducing you to my cousin, Elizabeth," he drawled cruelly, stumbling, and spilling his drink on the carpet as he dragged her along.

William's eyes were still locked on hers, but as they neared, he swiftly took in the situation. With determined purpose, he strode over to Fitz and Elizabeth. She found his closeness unbearably intoxicating, it left her breathless.

"Darcy - old boy - allow me to introduce a dear friend of mine, Dr. Lizzie Bennet," Fitz mumbled, slurring his words.

The familiar deep timbered voice answered, "I believe Dr. Bennet and I have already made each other's acquaintance, Fitz."

"Hello William"

"How are you Elizabeth?"

Before she could answer, Fitz interrupted, "Considering the circumstances, she's holding up extremely well... Wouldn't you say old chap?"

Willam tore his eyes from Elizabeth and turned on Fitz; a cold menacing warning in his voice. "If you don't mind, Fitz, I would like to have a private word with Dr. Bennet."

Fitz swayed dangerously and leaning toward William, breathed into his ear, " Actually, I do mind... but I can't do anything about it... if you hurt her again Darcy, I swear, I will break every bone in that body of yours... understood, cousin?"

He turned and tripped over his feet, regained his balance and teetered off toward the bar.

William fixed his attention on Elizabeth. Searching her eyes, he bathed her in a look of such pure, sheer love, and joy, that she felt herself orbiting in a most radiant dimension, beyond sensual , beyond real, beyond any dream state she had ever experienced. Any doubt she had harbored about his hold, his power to move her, evaporated.

He reached out for her arm and hoarsely whispered, "Let's go out on the terrace, it's private, we can speak more freely."

She had heard the commanding tone before, and it brought back bittersweet memories. Raising her hand , palm up, creating an invisible wall, she begged, " Please... don't touch me."

A look of hurt, rejection, flickered across his features, but was quickly replaced by understanding, and something new; patience. The striking couple walked out onto the terrace side by side, without touching.

Dusk hadn't settled yet - low rays of setting sun bathed the landscape in a sensual glow. They fell into step and ambled past the Cloisters - toward the forested paths in the distance.

William broke the silence. And began talking. He told her of Indonesia, Meryton's success, his lonely time in Bali - weaving throughout, his sadness, lonesomeness, and his grief at having left her .

" Every night - during those six weeks, I would lie awake thinking of you, missing you, spinning stories in my mind about you..."

"What kind of stories, William?"

"Fairy tales, Elizabeth."

"With happy endings?..."

"After I'd slayed the dragon, killed the wicked witch, and found the magic sword... yes happy endings." He smiled , his eyes crinkling, dancing.

"But you didn't call..."

"No. And I still don't know why exactly. You have every right to be angry with me, Elizabeth. I am so sorry..."

"Sometimes we know the answer but are not ready to face it..."

"Perhaps..." His voice trailed off and she knew she had ventured far enough for now.

By unspoken understanding, they chose not to discuss Wickham. The very thought of Wickham, would cast a pall on their reunion, cloud its purity. It was a silent, tacit, agreement, and they both marveled at its intense presence.

Reaching the end of the path, William turned to her.

"I want to hear about you... and the ..." He could not, would not, mention the baby yet, the very thought left a strangling sensation in his throat.

Elizabeth spoke, and unlike the brutal purging she had experienced with Fitz, her words to William resonated with a lilting musicality. His presence, his warmth, gave her voice wings. She shared her feelings in such a way, that despite the miasma of confusion and pain, she floated and soared, safe in the knowledge that he would catch her if she fell. She too did not speak of the pregnancy. Her ordered universe balked at the notion.It did not feel right... She needed to ascertain their fit, their rightness as man and woman before she could entertain the thought of them as parents. They had time on their side.

Once she finished her tale, they stood facing each other; Elizabeth's invisible wall intact, William respecting her wishes. Slowly, tentatively, she raised a trembling palm in the air and pushed through the imaginary barrier. He met her palm with his own, and they touched, nerve endings shuddering with intense energy and heat. He slipped his hand back and forth against her skin, in wonder at the rightness of its fit .

Interlacing his fingers with hers he whispered hoarsely, " I promise to be there for you for now and forever..."

She was speechless.

It was dark by the time they returned to the gardens. William looked about and his eyes lit up.

"Elizabeth, look, a swing..." In a recessed corner of the walled perennial garden, hung a Victorian swing, padded seat fort two, suspended from the branches of an old oak.

Perhaps it was the boyish wonder of his tone, or the musical lilt of his voice, but Elizabeth was drawn to him, swiftly and deeply. She came to him, and circling her arms around his neck, she fingered his soft curls. He lowered his head and covered her lips. He kissed her until she'd forgotten why she had refused his touch earlier - until she clung, her lips to his, her arms about his shoulders, her hands sunk in his hair. He murmured soft endearments, French, English, their origin did not seem to matter, against her lips. And they slowly eased into warmth, flickering fire, flames. Into that primitive place they had explored earlier.

William was ecstatic. Holding her, feeling her body arching, flagrantly demanding against him, felt true and just. He so wanted to appease her, to feed her and satisfy her hungry senses and thus his. Breathing rapidly, dark-eyed and tense with anticipation, his hands moved over her, over her shoulders. He gently eased the black bustier. Bending his head, he nuzzled, lapped and laved each succulent nipple, until her moans crescendoed into his consciousness. Reverently, he covered her once again, respectful, filled with wonder at her changing body. He drew her nearer and placed his hand on her taut belly, stroking softly.

She understood his meaning , reveling in his gentle touch. She was uncovering different facets of, him, and it thrilled her. He bent down to his knees and kissed her soft abdomen, through layers of silk chiffon. At length he lay his cheek against it, as if listening to the budding life within.

Rising, he led her to the swing, and sat on the soft cushions, closing his hands around her waist, looking up at her face. In the moonlight, the harder edges of his profile were erased, replaced instead by a child-like mellowness. She felt herself melting. In one swift motion, he raised her above him and settled her on his lap, her legs on either side of him - molded against him. She could feel his desire, the iron length of his sex. Her own body softening, enticing, she could feel the caress of the cushions under her knees, in contrast to the roughness of his clothes, the hardness of his erection.

One hand surrounded her hip, steadying her, while the other slipped between them. She felt his fiddling at his waist - looked down- brushing his hand away she opened his tuxedo pants and laid him bare. Filling her hand with his turgid length she delicately feathered her fingers over the silky warmth. She heard his raspy breath, the sharp intake of air, and felt him tense, marveling at the softness covering all that masculine strength. She felt his hands nudging aside her undergarments, silk chiffon skirt bunched at the waist, legs bare in the moonlight save for her black high heeled sandals.

He looked at her and gently asked. "Will you be alright? This will not hurt the..."

She touched her finger to his lips. " Shhh... I'll be fine..."

He kissed her and gently guided himself into the softness of her swollen flesh. She felt its warm, insistent presence, its strength as he pressed in just a little. And she held her breath, poised, heart pounding, then slowly, she moved her hips, easing fraction by fraction. She took him in, glorying in his fullness, lovingly closing about him. She did not stop until she was fully impaled, until she could feel him nudging her inner core. Her skin sang, it hummed, nerve endings flickering with electricity.

His tongue thrust deeply into her mouth, claiming pillaging. Then she felt his powerful thigh flex beneath her, felt the sinews move insistently.

And the swing started to rock.

A thousand sensations washed through her. Surprised, she clung to him, hips pressing closer, wrapping her legs further around his hips. He was even deeper under her - each sensation intensified, driven by the increasing momentum. The swing was well oiled, well balanced, and the occasional push from William's foot was enough to keep them gliding back and forth.

And the dance began, started by one, then the other, layering one gentle arc atop the other. Each one matching thrust and withdrawal to the swing's motion. Bodies merging, synchronized in silent harmony, his hands on her hips, caressing. They became lost in the flowing rhythm. To and fro, give and take, sharing the dance.

She clung to him, her lips melded to his in the moonlight, hair cascading in the gentle breeze, legs glistening, silk chiffon trailing behind her, in the to and fro motion of their music. They both let past misunderstandings and present confusion slide away, and gave themselves to one another,a complete, unhurried giving.

Her body slick and hot, embraced him , bore down on his length, again, and again. The hypnotic repetition, held her captive , senses spinning in delight. Until they burst out, fractured, and she shattered in his arms. He muted her cry by their kiss and followed her trajectory, unable to break the link between them, he fused his pleasure and passion into hers.

William now knew without a doubt , that they had a future. This night, this moment, feeling her pulsating rhythm, had forged the certainty in his mind. He could not risk losing her, losing the life force gently budding deep within her.

The swing came to a stop.

Ensconced deep within her, he cupped her face lovingly in his hands and whispered the words which had become engraved in his mind,

"Marry me."

Chapter Nineteen

A Drinking Song

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all we know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

W.B. Yeats

Kiss the Boys Goodbye: Brandy, Sloe Gin, juice of one lemon, half an egg white. Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve.

"Marry me," he repeated once again.

The words reverberated within the caverns of her mind. His voice rang deep with sincerity, with truth. She could not, however, ignore the forceful determination, the singular purpose and unwavering certainty punctuating those very words. She lifted her head from his chest, looked into his face, and raised a hand to his cheek - feeling the unyielding bones beneath a layer of smooth skin.

Her head was reeling, her body satiated and deliciously lax. He waited - suspended in the darkness and silence - shifting shadows playing upon his face, his features. He had an unfair advantage; she was trapped in his lap, he knew it, and the primal male in him cherished it. Yet his victory was short lived; sensing her hesitation, he gently raised her, letting the silk chiffon fall down once again about her hips. Each one fumbled with clothing - and decency was once again restored.

He remained sitting on the swing, and looked up at her, all anticipation, a gentle questioning mixed with tenderness. She began fidgeting with her necklace - Fitz's necklace- fingers nervously fluttering over the cool stones. At long last, she spoke.

"I..." She paused to lick her dry lips, " I need time...to think."

"How much time, Elizabeth?" he requested in a low timber, gazing down at the ground below him.

"I don't know William," she replied softly.

"But I need to know...How long?" His jaw hardened, tensed. She sensed his response and a part of her panicked.

Looking into his eyes , she gently shook her head, pleading, " Please... don't push... Surely you can see why... I hardly know you. I need to understand you... discover you... learn about you. I don't know where you grew up... your family, where you went to school, how many languages you speak. I don't know your birthday, your favorite color ... I don't even know whether you like the smell of rain...This..." She waived her arm at the swing, "this, is beautiful, incredible... but it's passion... not true living... it's not real."

"I'm a passionate man, Elizabeth."

She dropped her arm, and continued looking into his face. He proceeded, " I live a passionate life. I always have. I can offer you both; I can give you the reality and the dream. They do not have to be separate entities - one can fuel the other."

"I wish it were that simple," she answered, sighing.

"Not everything needs to be complex. Sometimes pure, sheer, minimalism is enough." He reached out his hand to her - beckoning. She wasn't sure what made her back away, what stopped her from saying yes, from agreeing right there and then, to marry him. But she did, she moved away. Her actions spoke of fear, uncertainty, the need for space, for distance. He was stunned. He was being denied his one greatest wish; his need to be with this woman from now on, without prelude, without a long journey of waiting.

William had rarely been denied in his life. Many accomplishments had come very easily, with minimal effort on his part. Others, had been the result of careful, calculated planning, hard work and uncanny good luck. His strategies rarely failed. Yet he was failing now. Failing to convince her, to win her over - on his terms. Frustration, anger and disappointment, wove a steely thread into the love and delight he'd been feeling but a few minutes ago.

"So this is what I am to expect from you?... A possibility... A tenuous perhaps... When all I want to do is sweep you off your feet and adore you... the way you deserve... with all my passion, my energy, my devotion... how can you deny me... no, how can you deny us, Elizabeth?"

Her anger flaring at his rigid stance, his unyielding demeanor, she fired back without thinking, " This is all about you isn't it? Your needs... What William wants, William gets... I'm not the latest luxury sports car, William!... I'm a complex human being - and you had better take the time to know me... to realize what you are getting yourself into... You speak of simplicity... Well, honey... simple, I'm not... I don't do simple... I just don't operate that way. If you want simple, go and get yourself a Barbie doll!"

She swung around, black chiffon layers swirling furiously, and started walking away. He sprang up off the swing and ran toward her.

"Elizabeth, please... stop."

She halted in her tracks and stood still, her back turned to him. He came up behind her, enveloping his arms around her stiffened back, encircling her, so wanting to impart his love through his touch, if not his words. He rested his forehead against the nape of her neck and spoke quietly, with great care, his breath fanning her skin.

"I love the color of green moss... and when I was a little boy I'd stay up to watch the lightning storms... Elizabeth, I'm sorry... I did not mean to offend you... I hear you... It's just that I want you so badly, near me... I can't bear the thought of not seeing you... I have to go to New York next week... and a week is so long...now that I've been with you again and loved you again."

Her shoulders relaxed, his voice wove its heady spell on her. She waited, poised, for more to follow. He continued, "I hear you very clearly... it's just so painful... I ache for you...you are my air, my wind... let me show you... let me court you... mon amour."

He kissed her neck, her bare shoulder and tenderly lay his cheek against hers. Not letting go. He could feel her muscles relaxing, tension flowing away. She turned toward him and whispered,

"Thank you."

They walked back through the gardens slowly, taking the steps up the terrace, the sounds of music and voices drifting intermittently toward them. He reached out and held her hand. She did not withdraw, instead, they continued their lingering walk, savoring a new found intimacy that reached beyond the sensual world they had previously inhabited. At her door, he kissed her softly and tenderly, gentle undemanding kisses whose sweetness spoke of a new understanding. Stroking her cheek he murmured,

"Tu es si belle, si douce... a demain, bonsoir, Elizabeth. " Turning on his heels he strode down the hallway, then stopped and turned toward her. "And I love the smell of rain in spring time."

His steps took him back to the main house, the sound of familiar voices, laughter, beckoning toward him, drawing him in. He was going back to find Fitz. William did not take his friendships lightly; his loyalty was legendary among those few privy to its depth, and steadfastness. Yes, William was a great friend, and despite the nervous flutter in his chest, he sought Fitz out, desperately needing to mend the rift created earlier that evening. Fitz's long form lay sprawled across the bar, next to the dining room. He was resisting the futile attempts of Jonathan Matlock to pry him away from his scotch. Seeing Darcy approaching Jonathan turned to him.

"Here, Darce, he's all yours. I've given up - he's completely pickled."

Darcy sat down next to the forlorn form of his cousin. Fitz lifted his head off the bar, long enough to focus on William and ascertain his identity.

"Ooohh... sshyou again... so.. dya get the girl Darcy?... Gonna live happily ever after?"

"Fitz, you're drunk. Let me take you to your room."

"Nope... Thissh stuff is great... Glenfididdle something... good shtuff..."

"Glenfidditch."

"Whatever." He waived his arm wildly about him.

"You know... I was gonna propose to her thish weekend... but nooo...the great William Darcy had to show up."

William was horrified - this was unexpected, and much more serious than Elizabeth had let on when she spoke to him earlier that evening.

"Fitz, I had no idea... I'm sorry... You and Elizabeth were serious then?" He had to know, maybe she had not told him everything.

"Serious, shmerious... at least I was a gentleman... which is more than you can say Darcy!"

I think I need a drink all of a sudden. Turning to the bartender, he ordered. " Laphroaig, double, on the rocks."

Fitz lunged toward him and draped his arm around Williams broad shoulders. "Never shlept with her, shure wanted to.. Damn it, it's not fair Darcy, same thing happened wif Emily Shaw, remember - you shlept wif her and I never did!... Darcy... maybe I'm gay or something."

"You're not gay, Fitz."

"Okay, you know better."

And so the night stretched ahead, the bar and dining room emptying of guests, till finally, the lights were dimmed and staff nudged the inebriated gentlemen toward the Cloisters and their rooms. The pair staggered back toward Fitz's room - William deluding himself that he was, indeed, sober. Fitz, fumbled for his key, and unable to locate it, exclaimed.

"Sheesh!... Key is gone... Pouf!"

"Need key!" Darcy replied leaning his back against the wall and sliding down to a sitting position in the hallway. Fitz started banging his head against the door.

"Oh. No. Thish no goooood!"

'Fitz, stop it you'll get a concushion!"

Awakened by the ruckus outside , Elizabeth grabbed her bathrobe and investigated by opening her door and peering into the darkened hallway. She was greeted by a most astonishing tableau.

Sitting on the floor, his back braced against the wall, was the magnificent but rumpled form of William Darcy; dark curls disheveled around his flushed face, bowtie dangling askew by one strap, and sprawled on his lap and the floor, a most bedraggled and pathetic Fitz. Both men looked up at her and smiled; one sheepishly, the other, lopsidedly. William spoke first.

"Hello, beautiful!"

"Lishibeth... you upside down!" Fitz exclaimed.

She was speechless. Her brain, fuzzy with sleep, registered that the two most important men in her life lay at her feet, completely intoxicated. Without saying a word, she stepped up to Fitz and attempted to pull him up to a stand. William gathered enough of his wits to prop Fitz up and anchored between them , they dragged him into her room. Fitz looked at the bed.

"Oooh! We sleep wif you Lishie?"

"No!" She exclaimed, opening the connecting door and pushing them both through. Fitz stumbled and the trio careened toward the bed, ending up in a messy heap. Extricating herself from their hold she stood up and with a sanctimonious voice tinged with suppressed laughter she finally spoke, " Gentlemen, good night and sweet dreams."

Fitz turned to her and held out his arm.

"No kissy , Lishbeth?"

"No kiss Fitz."

"What about me Elizabeth?"

"No kiss for you either, William"

Shaking her head, she turned around and retreated to her room, locking the connecting door behind her. Both men lay on the bed, two spent bodies, looking up at the ceiling. Fitz muttered.

"She not mine Darcy... never will be." Closing his eyes, he began snoring.

William paused for a few moments, then responded, " She not mine either Fitz... yet," and fell into a deep slumber.

Chapter Twenty

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

W.B. Yeats

Doctor-Patient Relationship: Whiskey, Triple Sec, Powdered Sugar. Pour all ingredients into shaker, fill with ice cubes, and shake well. Strain drink into cocktail glass and serve.

The Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the Barnes Institute did not officially open its doors till nine in the morning. But, by eight a.m. the clinic was humming with human activity; teams assembled for daily briefing meetings to discuss pertinent cases. Each team was composed of a senior staff psychiatrist, a psychologist, a senior psychiatry resident and floating rotations of interns and junior medical students. Elizabeth, as director of the clinic, spent half her time fending off administrative concerns and the remainder doing what she loved best, teaching. She found her supervisory work rewarding and challenging, as such, it fuelled her energy for other more mundane tasks. Today's meeting was being held in her spacious office, overlooking the still gray Toronto skyline. On arriving, she was surprised but not taken aback, by a dozen pale pink long stemmed roses on her desk. She had been expecting something, but not quite this soon. The note was addressed to Dr. Bennet. Inside it read.

Dearest Elizabeth,
My favorite dessert is Mrs. Reynolds' chocolate cream pie with a tall glass of milk. Love, W.

Who the hell was Mrs. Reynolds? Oh. Well. She would find out in good time. Shaking her head, she smiled privately - and arranged the flowers on the window sill.

She felt exhausted this morning; the weekend had been a veritable roller-coaster ride and now, two months into the pregnancy, she was feeling a pervasive fatigue. Until this point, she had been fortunate to experience few symptoms, and had managed to push away a nagging awareness of the growing life in her belly. Until now, that is. Avoidance of the facts and their import in her life would not be effective for long. Scanning her memories of the weekend she again shook her head in disbelief.What had happened to her quiet, orderly and very predictable existence. Why did she feel like some doomed heroine in a twisted romance?

The weekend had been full of surprises, spins and turns. Images floated about in her mind; sitting on the tiled marble, riveted by Fitz's stricken expression, her first sighting of William at the gathering, the smooth arc of the garden swing cutting through the air, and disheveled, tuxedo- clad bodies flopped on an expanse of white sheets.

And then the next morning... She certainly had not been ready to face the family at breakfast. After a hastily ordered room service meal, she had packed her bags and checked in on the two cousins. They had looked almost angelic in their slumber, and she'd kissed each one on the cheek. After some hesitation, she'd scribbled a quick note addressed to each on the hotel stationary and made a silent and hasty retreat.

"Secret admirer Elizabeth?" Louisa's voice startled her out of her preoccupied reverie.

"Maybe."

Louisa raised a shrewd eyebrow at her employer. Having been her personal secretary for the past eight years - she had acquired a sixth sense in reading Elizabeth's often guarded remarks. She had noticed her to be unusually preoccupied of late, and now these flowers... something was afoot, something both spicy and juicy, she was sure of it.

"Meeting starts in five minutes - who's on Krispy Kreme duty today?"

"John Foster," Elizabeth replied.

Krispy Kreme donuts every Monday were a tradition at the clinic, they made the start of a long week much more palatable. Wheeling her desk chair around to face her sitting area, Elizabeth tapped absent mindedly on her writing pad.

"Feeling O.K. today?" Louisa enquired worriedly.

She looked up into Louisa's kind eyes. " I'm fine, just tired... had a busy weekend... that's all.'

The team filtered in, John Foster bringing up the rear, carrying the promised donuts. A bright third year resident in Psychiatry, he was thrilled to be part of Dr. Bennet's team. She was a leading expert in the area, and he hoped to be hired at the Institute some day. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a lush bouquet of roses. Funny, this was the first time he'd ever seen flowers in her office.

Elizabeth began. "Good morning folks. Hope you all had a good weekend. Just a reminder that we are presenting at Grand Rounds this Thursday - John - which case did you select ?"

"Actually, it's one I haven't discussed with you yet, Dr. Bennet. A new referral, I just completed the intake assessment last week, and thought of presenting it as an open discussion to the audience."

Her interest piqued, she urged him to continue, " Go on... Why don't you do a quick run-through for us right now."

He shuffled his papers and began.

"Patient by the name of G. D. A twenty- two year old university student from Britain - who is doing an exchange program for nine months at a private girls' school in Oakville, referred to us by her psychologist. Patient was entirely well prior to traumatic incident one year ago. She has a negative past medical history and past psychiatric history as well as negative family history for psychiatric pathology. No meds, no alcohol, no drugs. Clean as a whistle. One year ago, while skiing in Europe with brother and ex- boyfriend, caught in avalanche. Brother helped dig her and ex- boyfriend, out. Apparently he skied down for extra help. Ex- boyfriend was supposed to stay by her side. She had torn her knee ligaments and could not weight bear. This is where it gets interesting. Ex- boyfriend panics and leaves her behind. She remains on own for over four hours, apparently blacks out for part of the time. Eventually was found by brother and rescue workers, hospitalized, knee operated successfully. But, since, patient has experienced severe symptoms: recurrent nightmares, anxiety, panic attacks, phobic avoidance of open spaces and social situations - became clinically depressed nine months ago. Treated in England with SSRI's - moderate efficacy of response. Presently not functioning optimally at work or in personal life, but due to high intelligence, able to continue studies. Seeing Dr.____ in Oakville, who feels she would benefit from our input.

Susan, the psychologist, piped in. "Any family supports right now?"

"Father is a big plastics corporate executive in England and States, very wealthy, travels a lot, distant emotionally, cares for her but poor communicator. Mother died when patient was ten - breast cancer - major abandonment issues here. Has one brother; very close, loving relationship, calls her several times a week, flies down regularly, patient almost worships him. Co-dependency issues and enmeshment happening between the two.

Susan persisted. "What about that ex-boyfriend?"

"He's out of the picture, no contact since accident. Patient has unresolved anger issues toward him. Nice guy huh?"

Elizabeth's mind was screaming! OH! MY GOD! That's William's sister! Breathe! God! Breathe! Attempting to control her voice, she asked John a question; it was expected of her, she had no choice but to partake in the discussion.

"What was her mental status on examination John?"

"Beautiful girl, well groomed, impeccably dressed, but frail appearing. She looked younger than stated age. Very tentative at first, poor eye contact, but cooperative. Some fidgeting, lip-biting. Highly intelligent, insightful, excellent fund of knowledge, had done extensive reading on her condition. No evidence of disorder of thought form or content."

"Diagnostic formulation, John?" Elizabeth asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.

"Well, classical post-traumatic stress presentation with anxiety, panic, and mild depressive features. The other axes appear clear at present."

"Treatment plan?"

"I propose changing her antidepressant, starting a course of brief psychodynamic psychotherapy, exploring trauma, abandonment issues, loss of mother, and relationship dynamics with brother and father. She may be a candidate for EMDR or Hypnosis."

"Excellent work, John," Elizabeth replied, desperately trying to regulate her breathing. " I'd like to discuss this case with you after the meeting please."

John lingered at his seat, until he and Elizabeth were the last two in the office. "John, I'll get right to the point. I won't be able to supervise this case for you, you'll have to go to Dr. Cleaver."

"But why? You're the expert in this area!"

"The reason is simple. I would like you to keep it confidential, please. I have had personal involvement with two of the parties involved. Now you and I know, that's not ethical. I'm sorry, I know you will do an excellent job with this case. You might come across a similar situation in the future, it's a good learning point." He thanked her and walked away, part of him savoring her compliment, the other wondering which of the parties mentioned she was acquainted with.

Lunch time arrived and with it, two more bouquets of dusty pink roses. The staff were now all atwitter. Dr. Bennet had an admirer... this was new, exciting, and the perfect antidote to their usually hectic Mondays. Elizabeth sat at her desk, shuffling the last two missives in her hands.

"I speak four languages: English, French, Spanish and Italian. I tried to learn Cantonese, but failed miserably. I also had a crush on my grade four teacher -Ms. Moffat, and you remind me of her. Love, W."

"In case you're wondering, Mrs. Reynolds was my nanny and now is my housekeeper in New York. She's a great cook, something which I am not. However I can whip up a mean omelet for breakfast. Love, W."

She didn't know what to make of this. Part of her wanted to laugh, another wanted to cry. He was evidently attempting to appease her, to reach out to her. There was a child- like feel to his notes. Her heart melted. Clever man... her brain retorted. And now, his sister's case, the entire incident clarified. Damn Wickham! That bloody liar... She should have guessed from the very beginning that his story was a false pack of deceitful lies. How could she have been so easily duped? She hoped with all her heart that William would call tonight and they would talk this over.

As the afternoon progressed, three more bouquets arrived, but these had no cards. The staff scurried past her office with suspicious regularity. It was looking like a rose bower now, and smelling like one too. The scent was beautiful, but overpowering, almost cloying, she felt a nasty headache coming on. Finally, at the end of the day, Louise came in carrying a large white box.

"You are going to have to give me a raise for all the extra work I do around here! This just came in from Dufflets, that chi-chi pastry shop."

"You open it Lou, I'm beat."

"O.K. Boss."

Louisa carefully lifted the lid and gasped, "Wow! It's beautiful! But what the hell is it?"

Peering over her shoulder, Elizabeth offered, "It's a Pavlova, a meringue and whipped cream dessert."

"Well, whoever this person is... they sure have done their research... about your famous sweet tooth, you know."

Elizabeth's intercom light began flashing.

"Yes, Carol?"

"Dr. Bennet, there's a gentleman here to see you."

"I'm not expecting any more patients today."

" Uum... he's not a patient... he says...uum...he's a friend." Funny, Carol never stuttered on the phone.

"Oh fine, let him in."

She sat back on her chair , closed her eyes and began massaging her now angrily throbbing temple. She heard Louisa clearing her throat and let her eyelids flutter open. A tall, dark man appeared clad in jeans, white shirt and a black beautifully fitted blazer. Leaning against her doorframe, as if it was the most natural stance in the world, he was smiling at her, his eyes dancing and crinkling seductively.

"Good afternoon, Elizabeth."

"What are you doing here William? I thought you were in New York."

"I was, and will be back there tomorrow morning. But I missed you. You know, it's only a short flight from Newark to Pearson here, and I happened to have the Gulfstream at my disposal this week."

"You flew it yourself?" she asked incredulous.

"I usually do. But this time I was a passenger. I wasn't cleared to fly yet, after the weekend..." The smile took on a sheepish note.

Throughout their exchange, Louisa stood frozen, mouth agape. Holy Sh-t - where had she found this heartbreaking living mass of testosterone?

"Hrm... Dr. Bennet, I must be on my way. Enjoy your dessert." She scurried out of the office. Who needs roses and Pavlovas when you could have him, instead.

He closed the door softly behind him and stood, taking in his surroundings. Diplomas framed the soft taupe walls, anchoring the corner, a leather couch and two overstuffed chairs. His eye was caught by a sepia- toned print of a sailboat on an expanse of water, the only piece of artwork on the wall. The room was warm, uncluttered, organized and welcoming.

She sat at her desk, following his perusal. William had finally entered into her academic sanctuary. Again, she was struck by his height, his size, his powerful charisma. Without apparent effort on his part, he seemed to engulf her entire space, her entire being. Suddenly a rush of hormones and fatigue assaulted her. She looked up at him and tears began trickling down her face, her lips quivered.

"I can't... it's too much."

He was near her in an instant - holding her, comforting her - leading her to the couch. He sat her down on his lap and began cradling her, soothing , caressing her hair.

"Honey, shhh...every thing will be alright."

"You don't know the half of it yet." She blurted out, nose running. He reached for a tissue and tenderly wiped her tear stained face, her nose. God, she was so vulnerable right now. William so wished to protect her from harm's way, to nurture her and the growing life within her. He began rocking her, a slow, gentle rhythm - his heart overflowing with love. His arms felt strong, warm, and for the first time that day she felt content and safe. They remained intertwined in each others' arms; one pouring out strength and security, the other drinking it in, thirsty for more. At long last, completely drained of any tears, she whispered,

"I'm sorry..."

"Don't... I'm here for you. Feel like talking?" he enquired lightly.

She began playing with the lapel of his jacket, running her fingers around the smooth edge, over and over again.

"Elizabeth?" He tipped her chin up, gazed into her eyes. The look he found mirrored in her darkened orbs shook his very core; so much love, naked, raw, innocent trust, and giving. He was overwhelmed, and finding himself at a loss for words, he placed the gentlest of kisses on her mouth, the tip of her nose the apple of her cheek.

"I found out what happened in Gstaad today."

His eyes opened wide with surprise, but he didn't flinch, didn't look away, just cradled her tighter.

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

"Geaorgianna, was referred to our clinic by her psychologist. William, why did you not tell me she was working a few minutes away from my home? Hold on... is she... at Jane's school? Does Jane know about her?"

"I'm afraid so... we both decided to tell you about her later, after this weekend. She was worried it would all be too much for you."

"Oooh, that protective older sister bit again... Am I that pathetically fragile that the two of you need to parcel out news, for fear of breaking me?" Her voice rose and she sat up in his lap.

"Now, sweet, don't get angry... Sometimes I think it's us we're trying to protect in some convoluted way. Maybe Jane and I were the ones who weren't ready to deal with all this yet. You... you are one of the most remarkably resilient individuals I have come across in my life. And those tears, those tears are just overflow right? I bet underneath all this that steely frame is intact? Right?"

She smiled at his words of wisdom. When had this new side of him emerged?

"I didn't even know about Georgie's referral, strange, she usually tells me everything."

"Maybe she's trying to be strong in her own way, William. Maybe she needs more room."

"Maybe," he replied. "I'm glad you know what happened now. It saves me the agony of retelling the tale."

"I know much more William; our intake assessments are pretty thorough. I know about your parents, your mom's death, and what a wonderful brother you have been to Georgie" She looked at him quizzically, expecting some resistance, some show of discomfort. There was none. He smiled a sad melancholic smile.

"I'm happy that you know Elizabeth. I'm sure the situation will be handled sensitively by yourself and your clinic."

"Actually, I'm off the case. I'm too close to it, but she's in capable hands." He nodded his head in approval.

"How do you feel now, honey?"

She couldn't help but notice all his sweet endearments and relished the sound of each one.

"A bit better... I'm hungry again, I'm always hungry now, and tired... it must be the..."

"The pregnancy right?... there, I finally said it!... And you know what? It feels wonderful to finally acknowledge it, doesn't it?"

She nodded her head silently, on the verge of tears again. Noticing the slight trembling of her lips, William changed the topic.

"Wanna go out for dinner?"

"Actually it's the last thing on my mind - could we just go home and order pizza?"

"That sounds great!"

"Did you drive here?"

"No, my pilot dropped me off - he's picking me up here tomorrow at nine. Is that alright with you? I guess I need a ride and a place to sleep tonight."

"Will you be seeing Georgie as well?"

He hesitated for a moment. "No... I was hoping to devote my entire evening to you."

"Ooh..." She burrowed herself deep into his arms and murmured with a teasing lilt in her tone.. " You are a very nice man William, very thoughtful.... I think I'm starting to like you... very much."

He offered to drive and she let him. Relaxing, unaccustomed to having someone care for her in such a fashion. This felt entirely different to her experience with Fitz. There was a power to William - a potency which emanated and touched her very roots - drew her in - locked her in a protective and solid shield.

Mr. Collins greeted them at the door and glimpsing William scurried to hide himself under the couch. Jane was not home yet. They settled themselves on the couch, in front of the evening news, and cuddled, munching on pizza, drinking iced tea.

William propped Elizabeth's feet up on a nearby ottoman and massaged her neck, feeling her relax and unwind as the evening flowed on. Neither spoke much, both needed a respite from the intensity of the day, the weekend.

She tangled her legs through his. " Mmmm... that feels good. You know, this is the first normal evening we've had since I've known you."

"Mmm..." he answered.

"No tuxedos, no candlelight, no fancy drinks or gourmet delicacies..."

"No swing, no fountain, no boat..." he finished, with a rakish grin.

She poked him playfully in the ribs. "Hey..."

And the evening drifted along, an unhurried meandering flow of sweet, gentle, caresses and words. Eventually, they both fell asleep, bellies full, filled to the brim with pure contentment.

Jane let herself in. On hearing the soft sounds of the television, she raised her voice in greeting, "Lizzie, I'm home. You'll never guess who I ran into today, remember Charlotte?" She stopped mid- sentence. There was her sister nestled in the arms of William. His eyelashes began fluttering upon hearing her voice. He raised his finger to his lips and whispered.

"Shhh... she's had a hard day."

"Oohh," Jane mouthed and gave him a big grin, motioning to the kitchen with her hand.

He joined her a few minutes later, for a cup of tea, having left Elizabeth sleeping on the couch. After their marathon session last week, each one felt as if they'd known the other for years. An easy camaraderie prevailed, they both wanted Elizabeth's happiness, and this realization had forged a strong bond between the two. They discussed the events of the day. Jane asked him bluntly.

"What are you going to do about Wickham?"

"I have a plan, I've had it since Bali... but it's complex and will require your dad's involvement."

She looked up at him sharply. "Dad's a pretty tough operator, are you sure you're up for it?"

"I can be pretty tough too Jane, when the situation calls for it," he answered with a steely gaze.

"Will you promise me one thing ?"

"What is it?"

"Can I be present when you face Wickham, and get ...oh... maybe a minute with him?"

"Why do I feel very nervous all of a sudden Jane?"

She laughed. "Gonna stay the night ?"

"Do you have a guest bedroom?"

"Now COME ON William, she's pregnant with your baby, and you've already shared her bed once here, what's the big deal?"

"It's just that I promised her ... we would move slowly..." He was momentarily embarrassed, flustered.

Jane smirked at him, relishing the look of consternation on his features. Boy, I can hardly recognize the great William Darcy.

"Slow is one thing... but we're talking going backwards here, baby... there's room for you in her bedroom, and that's final."

" You are one bossy broad, Jane!" he scowled, throwing a dish towel at her.

"You'd better get used to it, big guy!" She laughed, catching it easily.

William found Lizzie sleeping soundly on the couch, curled up in a ball, kitten-like. He gently smoothed her hair, and marveled at the peaceful look on her features. Picking her up with great care, he went upstairs and softly closed the door behind them, leaving a furious Mr. Collins standing guard in the darkened hallway.

Chapter 21

"Oh! Where shall I my true love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William sails among the crew."

John Gay.

Port and Starboard: One tablespoon Grenadine, half an ounce Green Crème de Menthe. Pour carefully into a pousse café glass, so the Crème de Menthe floats on Grenadine. Serve without mixing.

The century-old oaks inhabiting Elizabeth's neighborhood had been immortalized in Canadian Literature by Mazo de la Roche's Jalna series. Tall, majestic, proudly weathered by harsh Canadian winters, they had fascinated Elizabeth since childhood.

Outside her bedroom, stood just such an old tree- gnarled branches reaching out toward the stucco façade. The height of her bed offered a fine view of cracked bark and intricate etchings. The tree was home to a multitude of birds, which come spring, awakened her with musical regularity.

The familiar sing-song chirping registered in the recesses of her consciousness, causing her eyelids to flutter awake. This morning the bark grooves appeared crisper, sharp meandering furrows, imbued with some ancient scroll-like significance. Today she felt connected to the tree, to its channels, its leaves and fauna; an elemental and powerful link.

Rays of light filtered through a panel of sheer muslin - casting striated shadows on the moss green walls. Moss green ...William's favorite color... William.

He had somehow wandered into her dreams and she had sensed his presence beside her all night. It had been a deep and delicious slumber and she was aware of an unaccustomed refreshment on awakening. The warmth of his chest, his taut stomach, muscular thighs, all arched around her in a cradling gestalt of potency and security, her sanctuary.

One arm rested lightly on her hip, its intent possessive or protective - she now was no longer sure. A hushing sound punctuated his breathing, fanning her neck. If only I could bottle all this... she thought, drifting in and out of bliss.

Turning without disturbing the folds of the feather comforter ensconcing them - she lifted his hand. It was much larger than hers, square, fingers tapering to graceful ovals. Does he play the piano, I wonder? It wasn't a pampered hand; it spoke of character, a roughness to the palm. Handling ropes on the boat? The crested signet ring had turned so that its plain side faced up - a wedding band. She gently twisted it back into place - making it right - for now.

Sliding her palm against his, she marveled at the disparity in size. Hers - smaller, finer boned -a writer's hand. His - heavy, firm, and generous- a pilot's hand, a sea captain's hand. Suddenly his fingers quivered and flexed, intertwining with hers, forming a mesh, enmeshing; a term she used so frequently with patients, its meaning only now crystallizing in her mind.

"Mmmm..." he murmured, nuzzling his cheek into her warm neck.

She smiled to herself. He was purring- a slow, sexy, growlly purr, and they had not made love last night - as far as she could recall.

"Good morning you," she whispered in her morning voice. "You sound quite content... "

"Aha..." he replied, deep voice lilting, teasing. "I made mad and passionate love to you last night, glorious fireworks, incredible stuff... and you managed to sleep through it all."

"Go on lover boy..." she teased back in kind, a secret smile upturning her lips.

"You don't believe me, do you? Well, you were so lost in your rapture, so very vocal, my sweet... that we woke Jane up... she was most cross with us... but of course, you missed it all.... since you were sleeping."

A sliver of doubt lodged itself in her mind - could it be true? He caught her hesitation and laughed softly.

"Gotcha babe! You know I would never take advantage of you in that way, now, would I?"

Tightening his arms about her, he pressed his entire length - heavy tumescence and all, onto her supple back. This was a completely new side of William, light and teasingly affectionate. The layers are peeling away, ever so slowly... she mused, delighted with the new awareness.

"I'm imprinting myself on you," he murmured, encasing her in his powerful hold, "so that you will remember me until the weekend, when I see you again."

"Are there not other ways of imprinting, William?"

"Is that an enticement of sorts?"

"Perhaps..." she answered demurely.

"Well, then, yes... I can think of a few..." He slipped her white cotton shift off one shoulder and deposited warm, lingering kisses onto her neck, the soft contour of her shoulder.

"What do you call this, here."

"The scapula."

"It's begging to be kissed."

"Oh." He continued his gentle ministrations until her shift lay pooled at her waist. Turning herself over, propped on one elbow, hair flowing down onto one side, she offered her self to his feasting eyes; shyness replaced by trust, modesty by desire.

"How did I end up in this night gown last night?"

"I changed you into it," he answered matter of factly.

"You are a sweet man."

"Uhummm..." he murmured, busy cupping the underside of her breasts, weighing each one.

"I think I'm partial to the right one."

"Really?"

"It's perkier."

"You!"

He continued his sensual perusal, ignoring her feeble protestations. "Take these nipples, for example, they used to be the softest rose petal pink, now... they have changed to the plummiest of pinks, fascinating."

He blew on the right nipple and watched, with absorption, as it puckered. Ever so delicately, he licked its dusky tip. She flinched.

"Sensitive?..." he enquired, looking up, heavy-lidded, lips slightly parted.

"Uumm..."

"It's common, isn't it, in the first trimester?" He lapped the areola, and turned his undivided attention to the other side.

"Have you been reading?" she asked, surprised.

"Ahuumm... remember, I'm a detail man, Elizabeth." Something was niggling in her mind - pink roses.

"William, why pink roses?"

"Until today, they were a perfect match to your luscious nipples - that's why. I'll have to find a plummier shade for next time." She blushed. I'm going to be facing seventy two replicas of my nipples in the office tomorrow. Great!

"And why six dozen?"

"Why, one dozen for each week that I did not call you from Indonesia," he replied lightly, as if she had missed a most obvious clue. Returning his attentions to the task at hand, he gently increased his tempo; lapping, licking, suckling - burying his entire face into her bountiful softness. She could feel the throb of his sex against her thigh - and yet felt no pressure, no desperate need to consummate the moment.

Lost in pure ecstasy, she let herself take flight, delighting in his kisses and the feel of his curls caressing her chest. Finally, slowing his tender ablutions, he nestled his entire visage into her cleavage. She cradled his head, stroking his curls, sweeping them tenderly off his forehead.

And she rocked him, mirroring his tender loving of the previous night, relishing the symmetry of their actions. And he, in turn, floated ensconced in a heady and powerful female clasp - a primitive magnet - yielding, yet incredibly resilient, just like her. Raising his head a touch, he looked up adoringly into her eyes.

"I love you."

The words just tumbled out, without thought, planning or strategizing, a natural flow of three simple words. It had been so easy. He sighed and closed his eyes again, feeling her renew the swaying motion, and somewhere above him, he heard her voice.

"I know, William, I know." And it was enough, his cup was full.

In the agonizing anticipation which accompanies the wait for a pleasurable event, time slows and sometimes seems to stop altogether. Time slowed to a phlegmatic crawl for both William and Elizabeth as each awaited the weekend. He called faithfully every night. They spoke of everything and nothing, savoring their new intimacy with a mutually shared awe and incredulousness. William was due to arrive on Friday. Jane and Elizabeth had planned a barbecue to coincide with his visit and that of Charles. The girls were in high spirits Thursday night, in anticipation of the upcoming reunions. William called quite late that evening. She was sitting up in bed, painting her toenails.

"Hi sweetie, what are you doing?" he drawled, his voice smooth and sexy, expectant.

"Painting my toenails - a plummy pink color, in bed."

"Mmm.." he groaned. " I'll have to add your toes to my list, then."

"What list?"

"My kissing list for the weekend."

"William...?" Her tone changed.

"Mmm?"

"What about Georgie?"

"I'm glad you brought her up. Would you be comfortable having her over for the barbecue?"

"A better question is... would she be comfortable?"

"I think so... she knows Charles, I'll be there... I've told her about you."

She was shocked. "You have? What exactly have you told her?"

"Elizabeth, I hear that well-known edge to your voice... babe, it's alright... I've told her that I would like her to meet someone very special to me. She was thrilled to find out you were Jane's sister. Jane's taken her under her wing at school."

"I know, she told me. Is that all?"

"That is all. Happy?"

"Thank you." Her voice sounded relieved. And then it took on a tone now becoming quite familiar to William, a seductive, sultry, and breathy tone. Upon hearing it, his body rarely failed to respond.

"William... tell me a story..."

William Darcy had a hidden talent which few men possessed, and even fewer souls were intimately acquainted with. He was a born story-teller, able to weave exotic tales, fed by a most vivid and colorful imagination.

"Happy to oblige." His voice dropped an octave and he began in a conspiratory tone.

"You're at a Victoria's Secret in... Palm Beach... looking through the sexiest black teddies and negligees... when all of a sudden..."

"Hold on - It will have to be the maternity section of Victoria's Secret soon."

Undaunted, he continued, grinning widely at his end of the line. "You're in the maternity section of Victoria's Secret... looking at the silkiest teddies... for yummy-mummies- to- be... when all of a sudden... a tall dark..."

His substantial talent was put to excellent use that evening, leaving a most contented smile on Elizabeth's face as she drifted off to sleep.

She sped down the Q.E.W., attempting to get ahead of the rush hour traffic. Her last two patients had cancelled, as often happened on Friday afternoons- and she had escaped early from the clinic. Running into the house, she noted a set of black leather luggage in the hallway. Charles must have arrived...

Entering the kitchen she was greeted by Mr. Collins wrestling with a pair of Calvin Klein boxer shorts. She grinned. Yes, Charles was definitely here, and they were obviously not expecting her this early. Damn, she so wanted to go for a run, but she needed to change.

Tiptoeing upstairs, she attempted to cover her ears - but the unmistakable sound of lusty lovemaking drifted toward her. Dressed in blue shorts and white t-shirt, she stepped out for her run. Her favorite route included a path down by the beach. If she closed her eyes, she could almost hear the ocean. Winding her way back, she noted the descending sun, and a chill permeating the air.

He'd been waiting for her. He knew her habits, her running route, he had even accompanied her once, not long ago. On seeing her form approach, he gunned the Harley and rode up behind her. She had glimpsed him from afar, and her heart had lurched in a sickening manner. She kept on running, quickening her pace, sprinting home.

"Lizzy! Baby! Stop!" He pulled the Harley up beside her.

"Leave me alone George!"

"Look, I need to speak with you."

"No! I know about you - the phone call, the avalanche - you are the lowliest of scum! Now go!"

"It's Darcy isn't it?"

"It was never about William, but always about you! Face the music George, you will never compare to him! Get some help for yourself and get out of my life!"

His face blackened under the helmet, his eyes taking on a distant icy glare.

"At least I've got your sweet baby sister."

She stopped in her tracks. "WHAT?"

He gunned the bike and above the din of the engine yelled back triumphantly. "She's a real WH-RE!"

And black rider became a black shadow, receding into the distance.

She let herself back in, shaking with anger and horror. Lydia! Stupid Lydia! But, hey, had she not made the same mistake? Slamming the door behind her, she glimpsed the pair of lovers canoodling on the living room couch. Deciding to push Wickham to the back of her mind, she approached them gingerly.

"Uuumm... guys... it's time to take a breather. Did you find your Calvins, Charles?"

Charles turned around, blushing furiously. Jane yanked him back toward her.

"Honey, ignore her... the tales I could tell you about her and William..."

It was Elizabeth's turn to blush. Jane was much more comfortable with her sexuality, she relished it, flaunted it in a healthy natural way and didn't give a damn about the rest of the world. How had she ended up in a private girls' school?

Some time later, Jane padded into the kitchen, a wide smile on her face.

"God, I love reunions, Lizzy!"

"It makes the waiting almost bearable, doesn't it? How are the two of you doing?"

"In which department Liz?" Jane teased, quite aware of her sister's discomfort with certain topics. How did she ever end up in Psychiatry?

Lizzy took the plunge. "So, is Charles as good a lover as he sounds, big sis?"

"Uuumm... he's creative, fun, and best of all keeps up with me, if you know what I mean."

Elizabeth laughed heartily. "Alright... spare me the details."

"Dare I ask about the great Mr. Darcy?"

"By all means. He's intense, passionate, and I can barely keep up with him, if you know what I mean."

"Well, one thing I know for sure, he's got the most gorgeous set of bu..."

"Janey!"

"Oh. I almost forgot, William called a little earlier, he wants to meet us at the Marina, in... fifteen minutes actually."

"I'm so filthy after that run, but hell, let's just go."

Sheltered in a small baylet, the Oakville Marina was an exclusive private facility facing the historical park, a few minutes' walk from Elizabeth's home. The early evening air was cool and fragrant, a slight breeze drifting in from across the lake. As they neared the pier and lapping water, Charles covered Elizabeth's eyes.

"I promised him we would keep it a surprise."

Jane took her hand and led her stumbling and giggling toward the pier. With a flourish, Charles spun her around and she gasped.

But a few feet away, bobbing majestically in the water, stood William's boat "Monte Cristo." And there he was, leaning against the safety rail, eyes dancing, hungrily taking in every detail of her reaction. She was absolutely stunned. Jane spoke first.

"How did you ever get this thing up here from Florida?"

"I had a crew sail it up the east coast and through the lakes. I'll keep it here all summer, so I have a place to stay when I visit."

Elizabeth stood, her mouth agape, unable to make a simple sound. Jane nudged her "Come on sis... say something... all right, if she won't, I will. William, you are absolutely the sweetest man alive, after Charles of course, now let me have a tour of this decadent pleasure palace."

She hopped onboard, dragging Charles behind her, leaving the other two frozen, lost in each others' eyes. Elizabeth eventually found her voice.

"You did this for me? Such an expense, William."

"I can afford it. It's actually good use of the vessel, and we can have our very own place here." He hesitated for a moment, unsure if he had moved too quickly. "Would you like to stay here tonight?"

"I'm so grubby, after my run."

"Funny, I was about to tell you how sexy you looked just now. I like you this way, very much... no makeup, no high heels... come here."

He strode toward her and enveloped her in a crushing embrace. "Mmm... you smell of the wind, oh, and one more thing, no more stories tonight... I was running out of new ideas," he whispered hoarsely, nibbling on her ear.

"Somehow, I find that hard to believe."

Linking arms, they walked toward the boat.

Chapter 22

She drips herself with water, and her shoulders
Glisten as silver, they crumple up
Like wet and falling roses, and I listen
For the sluicing of their rain-disheveled petals.

D.H. Lawrence.

Surreal Deal: Apple Brandy, Triple Sec, apple juice, powdered sugar. Pour all ingredients into shaker and shake well. Strain into cocktail glass and serve.

Listening attentively to the sounds emanating from the bustling marina, she was struck by an orchestra-like quality emerging from the colorful reverberation. Groupings of instrumental variations vying for attention: the jingling of metal bearings against solid masts, punctuated by the frenzied whipping of sails in the breeze and accented by the insistent crying of seagulls. Colorful variations creating a rich background which contrasted sharply against the peaceful swaying motion of silent hulls.

Though she had run by the marina countless times in the past, it wasn't until today, sitting on William's boat, that the full sensual appeal of the surrounding scenery filtered into her actuality, creating an entirely new perspective. Against this resonant backdrop she heard Jane's voice filtering in.

"Lizzy - can I have a word with you? The boys are busy puttering downstairs."

Settling herself on one of the cushioned leather banquettes lining the outdoor upper deck, Jane observed her sister with a questioning air.

"I guess you haven't noticed, have you?"

"Noticed what Janey?"

"He happens to own the biggest friggin' boat in the entire Marina."

"So?" Elizabeth answered in a neutral tone, wondering where Jane was headed with her questioning.

"So? We happen to live in a town which has one of the highest per-capita incomes in Canada, my dear."

"Jane, what are you getting at?"

Jane looked at her sister incredulously. How can she be so brilliant yet so daft at the same time?

"Do you have any idea how much this boat is worth?"

"No."

"One point seven five million..." She paused for effect, "U.S. dollars, honey."

"You're beginning to sound like mom," Elizabeth replied, anger tingeing her voice.

"Now don't get started... puhleeaase." Softening her tone, Jane pressed on. "He's so out of our league - financially - I had no idea, though I should have guessed... and you're not concerned about any of this?"

"Why should I be? William happens to be wealthy. We're not exactly paupers."

"There is wealth Lizzy, and there is stratospheric wealth. I made some enquiries with Charles - now don't you scowl - William's net worth is in the double digits of millions my dear, and that's without the eventual Pemberley inheritance."

Elizabeth sighed. She had known the topic of money would surface eventually, yet somehow she had not expected Jane to be the one questioning her stand on the matter.

"Well then, he's living below his means... if you look at it that way. What's your point Jane?"

"Look, I'll be blunt with you." Elizabeth smiled inwardly. Jane's warning was redundant - she'd never known her sister to be anything but blunt. "There's a definite divide here between his life style and yours. Have you thought about what impact this will have on your relationship, your career, the baby...?"

"Janey, I appreciate your concern, but you're getting ahead of yourself. His wealth is impressive and yes, somewhat overwhelming, but I see it as a minor issue. I care for him, not his money. The luxuries are nice, but I don't crave them. I'm financially independent and certainly don't intend to attach myself in some parasitic manner onto him."

"Lizzy, that's not exactly what I meant. There's more..." She looked down on the ground at her feet, focusing on the polished tongue and grooved surface, choosing her words with care. "It's just... all of this money... and he's gorgeous to boot... and seems decent, loving and he's got this great intellect... it just doesn't seem real... the man has got to have a few faults you know..."

Elizabeth laughed. "He does baby, he truly does."

She recognized Jane's expressed concerns; they mirrored her own, early in her acquaintance with William. Lowering her voice to a conspiratorial hush, she began. "He can be proud and stubborn, he has to have his own way with many things, he can come across as aloof and haughty especially with new people... and we know about the silence bit... I could go on but I won't."

Jane smiled up at her and nodded her head. "Good, I feel a bit better now, just a bit though. Please remind me of these things from time to time, alright?"

"Why?"

"Because otherwise, I'd put him upon a pedestal and his ego would become unbearable. That's why."

"Janey, you've been spending too much time around psychiatrists, lighten up. I very much doubt that you of all people would place William on a pedestal. Honey, you specialize in toppling them, remember? Anyhow, I think he's kind of scared of you."

Jane raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Really? You've got to be kidding!"

"Uhum... and I kind of like it that way."

And with those words, a new understanding was re-established between the sisters, fresh boundaries laid down, anchored by mutual acceptance and respect - a tenuous balance once again took root and began to flourish.

Later that evening, once Jane and Charles had departed, she lounged with her legs propped up on the cushioned seats. The dusky sky about her was filled with ribbons of blue and gray fading to a single thread of pink.... a spring sky, full of promise.

Jane's words crept into her mind; it doesn't seem real... She had made light of Jane's concerns, attempting to reassure her sister - lifting her burden - a burden Jane did not need to carry after being such a comfort to her. Yet, in assuaging Jane's worries, Elizabeth had somehow inadvertently increased her own.

Doubts were beginning to float around in her mind, doubts about her ability to deal with his lifestyle, his expectations. Doubts based on uncertainty with the shaky foundation that was becoming the basis of their relationship. She realized clearly now, that she'd been living in a dreamscape, avoiding issues too close or painful to her. And William had obliged her, indulged her, somehow sensing and respecting her needs. She had a sinking suspicion that he had worked through many future scenarios, and was in fact holding back, allowing her to catch up with him, joining him at her pace. For that, she was very grateful, and her admiration for him grew.

He had insisted on anchoring the boat in a nearby cove, out on the open water, away from the bustle of the Marina. For privacy. she was becoming accustomed to his pervasive desire for solitude, his propensity to create pockets of protected quiet and whisk her away, depositing her in their very centers. She too enjoyed her tranquil times, on her own terms, but here the terms were his, and the very fact left her feeling unsettled.

A chill had descended in the air causing her to shiver in the evening breeze. At that moment, William came up the stairs and caught her trembling. Spinning on his heels, he retreated his steps and re-emerged a few minutes later carrying a blanket in one hand and in the other, a steaming mug of milk. She watched him ascend, towering figure, muscular form, solicitously appeasing her with his tender offerings. Unaccustomed to such ministrations she greeted him with a brilliant smile.

"You are spoiling me."

"It's become a new passion of mine," he replied, eyes crinkling at the corners, settling the blanket around her shoulders and tucking in its edges. "I didn't want either of you to catch cold." Her heart skipped a beat. She lowered her eyes, unable to meet his, yet wishing desperately that she could.

"You're deep in thought," he began gently.

"Mmmm..." she replied, sipping the warm milk, soaking in its mellowness and comfort.

Settling himself next to her and draping an arm around her shoulders, he looked up at the sky.

"Reading the night sky, William?"

"It's a habit of mine."

"Don't you feel suspended in some private space out here, able to look out, undisturbed, onto the rest of the world? ...Does this feel real to you?" she enquired quietly, searching his eyes, desperate for an answer.

"It's very real to me." He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand and began to slowly massage her neck, her hair, sending a delicious shower of tingles down her spine.

"Sometimes I feel that your reality and mine are at opposite ends of the spectrum..." she continued, heart beating a little louder, a little faster.

"How so?"

"We lead very different lives, you and I. Take this boat for example..."

He looked at her searchingly, the intricate workings of Elizabeth's mind fascinated him. There was a definite subtext here, flustering her. "What does this boat represent to you?"

"Wealth... power... and to you William?"

"Freedom... Freedom to travel when and where I please, freedom from the trappings of daily life on land.

"Being at the helm, in charge - William?" she added, reaching out and toying with his curls.

"Oh, that too." The crinkly smile resurfaced.

"Does the boat bother you?" She hesitated, and before she could answer, he cut in. "Because you just have to say one word, and I'll sell it."

"You would do that? For me?"

"Yes, I would."

And the realization struck her; he was willing to part with some very significant aspects of his life, for her sake. Where was the earlier stubbornness, the rigidity? Did a man change so quickly? Or had she misjudged him all along?

"You know Elizabeth, I don't need to work, but I choose to. Work is good for the spirit, its real. This boat is by far my largest extravagance, the rest of the time my life is relatively simple and unaffected."

She arched her brows, unable to resist a quick parry.

"If you ignore the Gulfstream, the New York penthouse, the Mercedes, oh, and of course, Mr. Armani..."

"Hey... I haven't seen that side of you since Florida." He pulled her hair playfully.

"She lurks beneath, ready to pounce, sweetie," she replied.

"Seriously, Elizabeth, the single most important aspect of my wealth is the freedom it grants me. I could do without the luxuries, but I cannot bear the thought of losing my autonomy. So I've ensured against such a possibility, by careful investing, taking calculated risks and I've been very lucky."

"So, a lot of this you earned on your own?"

He smiled at her, two dimples accenting his rugged features. "I'm not a trust fund baby, if that's what you mean. And I don't intend to raise my children with unlimited privileges; they need to be educated, they need to work, and at some point, they will have to prove themselves in the real world." He could feel her body relaxing, melting into his. This must have been the subtext... or at least a part of it.

"You have no idea how relieved I am to hear all this, William. But there's something you need to know... to me, freedom would mean ...planting my own vegetable garden, walking my children to school, cooking a meal for friends... living my life in a balanced, healthy way. I love travel and adventure, and I enjoy the little luxuries, but I hate pretense, superficiality and others doing the essentials for me. I take great pleasure in the minutiae of living, that's what's real."

He listened attentively to her every word, absorbing, assimilating and processing her meaning, and the clear underlying message beneath it all. And his heart soared. Her goals were so near to his heart, she had a wisdom, a maturity he cherished and loved. He knew at that moment, beyond any doubt, that a mutual understanding was near, so near he could touch it, taste its promising essence, its sweetness. Yes, William's heart soared planed and touched the sky.

Tipping her chin, he looked searchingly into her eyes. "I'd like to offer the same freedom and security to you and our child."

"Our child." She repeated after him, trance-like, expectant, and very scared.

"Yes, our child - the child we conceived on a beautiful night under the moonlit sky. You know, I have no doubt in my mind, that it was meant to be - that we were fated to come together, to seal our union in a permanent bond."

"So, that's it?" She asked looking up at the sky. "A simple acceptance - guided by fate."

"That's it," he responded firmly, with certainty. "There does not always have to be more... let it go, Elizabeth... relinquish the analysis... accept the inevitable, it's right and it's just... live in the moment, and not its possibility."

She remained silent for a very long time, pondering his words. And finally the tears came, a slow deliberate and painful trickle, rivulets flowing down her soft cheek.

"It's so hard... to let go... You see, I had this fantasy, this girlish dream of what it would be like to meet someone, bring a child into this world... and there was an order to it, a logic... this... this is so crazy... so backwards... it's just so very hard..." And the tears flowed.

"Let it go, and you will see... a new rightness, a different order will emerge. I promise to take good care of you and the baby, no matter what happens between us. Trust me."

"No matter what happens?" she asked worriedly through her tears, lips quivering.

"Well, I don't intend for anything to happen," he added, hugging her tighter, enveloping her with his warmth.

"Oh... and you usually get your way?"

"Yes, usually." And with that, he stood up in front of her, leaned down, and in one powerful motion scooped her up, blanket and all, carrying her into the bowels of the yacht.

"You are forever carrying me," she whispered into his warm neck.

"You are the only woman I have ever wanted to carry."

Nuzzling into his neck, burrowed in the blanketing folds, she felt oddly child-like, fragile and vulnerable, but also safe.

"Which room, sweet?" he asked spinning her around.

She closed her eyes and pointed - to the master bedroom. He deposited her gently on the padded bed. She stretched out languidly, feeling the tension ebbing away from her taut muscles and tendons. And she watched him, entranced. He moved about the cabin, graceful, powerful, searching for something - locating it, he placed the c.d. into a recessed console and the room became filled with the soft sounds of an Adagio for strings.

Locking his eyes onto hers, he slowly divested himself of his sweater, followed by his shirt. Each time she saw his body revealed, she noticed new startling details. Tonight, it was the enticing shadowing of his tight stomach muscles, the dark tuft of hair snaking seductively down his belly - further shading and accenting his rippled musculature, the sexy narrowness of his hips and the devastating thrust of his pelvis... He exuded raw male sensuality, and tonight it reached a new level, heightened by mutual trust, a meeting of the minds, a meeting of their spirits.

"I'm going to have a shower, care to join me? It's built for two."

"In a few minutes, William."

She stood, framed by the doorway, and surveyed his shadowy form through the foggy glass; sculpted body performing a silent pantomime. She stepped closer, and seeing her naked shape through the frosted pane, he opened the door. A cloud of steam escaped, surging through the small room; his arm materialized and he drew her in.

Their bodies embraced, entwined in delicious sensations heightened by the foggy mistiness and the persistent trickle of warm droplets on their burning skins. Lathering his hands with scented soap, he began to rub and caress every inch of her body. She recognized the woodsy, musky scent and it enveloped her in a heady perfume. Under the steady stream of warm water he rubbed the tantalizing scent into her most erogenous zones, slow circular motions, branding her as his very own. Satisfied with his ablutions, he raised her hips and placed her on a wooden ledge, jutting out of the shower wall. And he stood before her, in full priapic glory.

"It's just the right height, William," she whispered into his ear.

"Really? For what sweet?" he whispered back.

"For this." She reached out and encircled him, stroking, teasing.

He groaned. "Elizabeth..." And kissed her deeply, while attempting to clutch to his sense of control, letting her guide him into her warm depths.

They joined in a soft, gliding rhythm, water falling between them, bathing them in a delightful cascade, bodies undulating back and forth, a deliberately slow and excruciating tempo.

William was enraptured; this felt unlike any previous time. With each deep tantalizing thrust he could feel her delicate thews enclosing him in a new erotic fullness, whispering of the life budding within.

And so he made love to her, unhurried precious love, tempered and deliberate, reverently savoring and tasting of each other's sweetness. She took him in, accepting, welcoming and enveloping him back in turn with her tenderness. Her supple back arching, legs wrapped around his waist, pelvis sinuously flowing under the water, she met his each and every thrust.

William gave her his heart, his might and she... let go.

Each expectantly waited on the very brink of intense pleasure, tuned into the other's delicate signals. And with her first quiver, her first wave, her sudden up thrust under the waterfall, he relinquished his masterful control. It shattered. He surged and crested, meeting her in a simultaneous orgasm of extraordinary power, shaking each body with tremendous force, finally releasing the last vestiges of coiled pressure and pent up pain.

Surrounded by a dewy haze of water, they met each other in perfect unison. The dream became reality, and they soared, in a symbiotic flight of exquisite beauty.

Chapter 23

And you want to travel with her,
you want to travel blind
and you know that she can trust you
because you've touched her perfect body
with your mind.

Leonard Cohen.

Reunion: Light Rum, Cherry brandy, Triple Sec, Lime Juice. Pour all ingredients into shaker and shake well. Strain into cocktail glass, garnish with maraschino cherry and serve. He woke first, a broad smile lighting his face, and stretched his long limbs, careful not to awaken Elizabeth from her deep slumber. Turning toward her, he buried his face into the tangled mass of fragrant curls - inhaling deeply. She smelled of... him. Then he remembered; the long lingering shower, and the delectable variations of their erotic journey throughout the night. It seemed to him that every intimate experience with her scaled new heights. She was a most creative, giving, and sensual lover... his Elizabeth.

Sighing, he got up and strode toward the bathroom. Turning on the tap, he waited... no water... just a hissing sputtering sound exploding out of the metal faucet. Damn... they had emptied the entire water tank last night, which meant no coffee and no shower. He smiled inwardly; showering had taken on an entirely new meaning after last night. Slipping back into the bedroom, he found Elizabeth to be up and about, sitting wrapped in his white robe, at the galley table.

Wearing a satisfied and satiated expression, she looked up at him with heavy eyes, lips still swollen from sex, disheveled curls framing her face. She looked good enough to eat.

He was greeted by her husky morning voice. "Hi babe."

William considered himself to be a refined connoisseur of beauty; whether it was art, photography, architecture or women, he obtained great pleasure from the visual stimulation that magnificent works of art could bestow upon mere mortals. His tastes were varied, ranging from Baroque to Post-Impressionism, and in Elizabeth's outer persona he glimpsed the colors, the textures and the splendor of such masterpieces. As his knowledge of her body and her true self evolved it seemed her beauty took on deeper and richer hues.

From the very start, he had been deeply affected by a certain elusive quality about her. One had to probe, to explore, to uncover Elizabeth, and it was indeed hard work. It was a chase, a challenge. And the hunter in him lived for challenges. His artist's heart savored the siren, the warrior within craved possession, and a growing part of him wished to provide, nurture and tend to her happiness and that of their child. His mind whirled within the divergent tangents, finally settling once again on her sated eyes, the alabaster curve of her neck, and the transluscent glow of her skin.

"I wish I had my camera - hold on - what am I saying... I do have my camera. Wait, don't move."

She giggled at his boyish exuberance overlaying the unmistakable undercurrent of passion, marveling yet again at the many and varied facets of his personality. He ran back into the galley, loose pajama bottoms hugging his hips and sculpted abdomen, bare muscled chest fully exposed and a camera slung around his neck.

"All right, now just stay that way... and start talking to me.... Yeeess..." Click.

"Are you a photographer, William?"

"Just an amateur, I usually take my camera when I travel..."

"You look incredibly sexy in those pajamas." Click.

"Hey, no teasing the photographer..."

"Who's teasing?... I'd like to kiss that belly button of yours, right this second." Click.

"Elizabeth, cooperate now... just a few more."

"I'd like to run my tongue down from your belly button to..." Click.

"Beautiful...."

"I love you William Darcy."

The camera slipped out of his hands - it dangled on his chest - swinging back and forth, and came to a full stop.

Locking her eyes onto his, she stood and walked over, gently divesting him of his apparatus and laying it on the table. Turning to face him, she repeated in a now clear and resonant voice.

"I love you."

He felt himself swaying, but knew he hadn't moved. She feathered a kiss across his lips, and he drew her near, drinking her in deeply, kissing the words from her lips. Claiming her love, breath for breath, completely.

They docked the boat an hour later, Elizabeth becoming more adept at handling the ropes and ensuring all bumpers were in place. The ordered routines on board held an appealing comfort, and under William's patient tutelage she was beginning to truly enjoy life on the water. While tying up a last knot, a bundle of blond braids and yellow ribbons ran up the dock, yelling out insistently.

"Wiiilliaaam! Are you there?"

He peered out from the wheelhouse, startled by the loud greeting. "Melly! You're up early."

"Can I come up and sit in the captain's chair... like yesterday? Mommy said yes. Please?"

William caught Elizabeth's bemused expression. She nodded her head at him, smiling. He reached out and swung the little girl up in the air, depositing her safely on board.

Having completed her tie-down, she climbed back on board. At the wheelhouse, she found Melly ensconced in William's lap, listening carefully as he pointed to various dials and screens. His dark curls contrasted sharply with her blond braids. She was struck by his apparent comfort with the little girl. He has a natural way with children... Something she would not have guessed given his usual reserve around adults. And the vise which had been gripping her heart, the ambiguous feelings of herself and him as parents which had laid siege to her core, slowly began to ebb away.

Craning his neck toward her, he motioned. "Elizabeth, I'd like you to meet Melly. Her parents and I met yesterday afternoon, they own the boat next to ours. Melly, this is my friend Elizabeth."

A pair of clear blue eyes appraised her coolly. "Hi, I'm six, how old are you?"

Leaning down, William reprimanded her in a gentle tone. "Now Melly, that's no way to address a new friend... where are your manners?"

"Soorry... Nice to meet you... Miss."

Jumping off his lap she skipped away from William. " Mommy said I couldn't stay long, 'cause you had company...Bye William!" She gave him a gap-toothed smile.

Passing by Elizabeth, she shot her a defiant glare and lowering her voice, whispered. "I'm gonna marry him when I'm all grown up, you know..." and with a toss of her braids she scrambled off the boat.

William had caught the exchange and chuckled softly to himself. Elizabeth stood fixed in her spot, shaking her head in disbelief. I've just been upstaged by a six year old!

Winding their way back toward her town home, they planned the day ahead, bantering back and forth, safe in the warm acknowledgement of their growing feelings. As they walked past the park and gazebo, meandering through the oak-lined streetscape, she wanted to shout out to the world; I'm in love with this man! Instead, reigning in her exuberance, she focused on the safer minutiae of daily life.

"I have to buy a few things for the barbecue, do you want to come along? I'll show you a bit of the village."

"Sounds great. I do have a business meeting later today, but should be back for your party. Are you still fine about Georgie coming along?"

"Absolutely." She tightened her arm about his waist, relishing the feel of his taut muscles under her skin.

Charles greeted the pair at the door - grinning widely. "Well, good morning you two! Jane's upstairs, finishing up her shower."

"Hello Charles, you look very... refreshed this morning." Charles' grin widened perceptibly.

"William I'll be down in a few minutes, make yourself at home." Elizabeth ran up the stairs, leaving the two men alone.

After settling themselves in the kitchen, an awkward silence ensued between the two friends. Since the Bennet sisters had entered each of their lives, neither man had taken the opportunity to be alone with the other.

Finally Charles broke the heavy silence. "Cup of coffee, Darce?"

"Thanks. That would be great."

"So... How's it going?"

William looked pensively at his friend, and a slow grin upturned the corners of his lips.

"She's amazing Bingley."

"They both are, Darce, I have a feeling all of us are headed in the same direction."

Darcy looked at his friend, and taking a deep breath announced with a touch of solemnity. "I've decided to talk to Tom Bennet. We have a meeting set up this afternoon."

"Does she know?"

"No."

"Why don't you tell her?"

"I want to surprise her."

"Darce, some women don't like surprises."

William considered his friend's words. "I've thought it through and I think it's best I go about it this way."

"I hear old Bennet is a tough negotiator, are you sure this isn't premature? He hardly knows you, outside of the courtroom."

"No, I'm ready, and I'll give him plenty of opportunities to get to know me, in the future," William answered with finality.

Charles knew to stop pressing his point; he'd come up against Darcy's famous stubbornness in the past, there was no use challenging him further. Yet, he sensed that the road ahead could be somewhat exigent for his friend.

Standing up to stretch his legs William stepped mistakenly on Mr. Collins' tail. A loud hiss greeted the perceived attacker. William stooped down and attempted to soothe the frightened cat.

"Sorry... Little fella."

Mr. Collins hissed back at the dark man, affronted by his disparaging tone. William wisely retreated.

"Do you ever get the feeling, Charles, that this cat absolutely detests us?"

Charles grinned, nodding his head. "He probably does, after all, we're after his women!"

Tom Bennet sat behind his mahogany desk, pensively sipping his coffee. He often came into the Meryton headquarters on Saturday mornings, catching up on paperwork and more importantly indulging in uninterrupted thinking time. He did his best strategizing during these quiet uncluttered mornings.

This morning was different - he'd received a call from Darcy last week asking for a private meeting to discuss some business proposal. His interest was piqued. A highly intelligent and shrewd man, he'd flirted with several possibilities in his mind, yet none stood out. Tom Bennet insisted on being prepared for all his meetings, today he felt disadvantaged and it did not sit well with him. William Darcy... He had witnessed him in action during their lawsuit, and held a grudging respect for the man; he possessed a keen intellect, was an excellent negotiator, and appeared to have integrity as well as a considerable amount of drive. Bennet had put the lawsuit behind him. He rarely held onto grudges. The ruling had been a blow to his ego, but Meryton had bent the rules and had been justly reprimanded. It was not unusual in the business, it was part of the game. A firm knock startled him out of his musings.

"Come in," he replied, standing up.

William walked in. Bennet was immediately struck by his height. Below a polite and refined exterior, there lurked a supple and skillful strength in his movements and the unmistakable glint of dangerous intelligence in his eyes.

"Well, Darcy, I've got to tell you - I did not expect a face to face meeting so soon after the legal wrangles we went through." He held out his hand, a peace offering.

"Tom, thanks for seeing me on such short notice." William shook his hand, mentally noting the meaning of Bennet's gesture. He had rehearsed the speech multiple times in his mind. Yet, now that the time had arrived, he felt oddly nervous, his heart beating at a furious rate. Damn it, control yourself, man...

Bennet observed him closely, noting the tightness of his jaw, the piercing glare in his eyes. Interesting...

"Tom, I'll get right to the point. My purpose in meeting you today is two-fold; one is business related and the other is - personal."

Bennet's head shot up. "Personal?"

"Yes, I'd like to talk to you about your daughter, Elizabeth."

"How do you know my Lizzy?" he demanded in a possessive, and incredulous tone. Elizabeth had always been his favorite child; he understood her mind, her logic and felt a special closeness with her. Despite his distant parenting style, they had managed to forge a close bond. He sensed this bond was soon to be tested; bristling at the very notion, he repeated himself.

"Please explain to me how you have become acquainted with my daughter." His tone firm and demanding, eyes cold and calculating.

In a slow, controlled voice, William began. "Elizabeth and I met in Key Biscayne two and a half months ago. It was purely accidental. We... we got to know each other quite well and...decided to continue the relationship here, in Canada. As you know, I'm stationed in New York - but it's an easy flight to Toronto." William paused, Bennet cut through him with a glacial stare.

"Please continue."

William took a deep breath and steeled his shoulders. "The situation has recently become more complicated than either of us anticipated."

"What complications are you referring to Darcy?"

"Delicate complications."

Bennet was usually known for his cool and calm demeanor during the most heated of business discussions. However, this was trespassing into personal territory, his emotions took hold and he snapped.

"What the FUCK are you trying to tell me, young man!"

Darcy had been prepared for this reaction, yet despite its anticipation, Bennet's tone and words stung sharply.

"What I am trying to say is that ... your daughter and I are expecting a child."

"WHAT?"

"Elizabeth is pregnant Tom, please, listen to what I have to say. I love your daughter. Words can't do justice to how much I care for her. She's an incredible woman."

"I know my daughter, Darcy...at least I thought I did..." he added.

"I have come to ask you for her hand in marriage."

At that, Bennet burst out laughing. "First of all, Elizabeth doesn't need my permission to get married, what century do you live in Darcy? Second, don't you think you're going about it backwards? I would have rather preferred that you had asked my permission prior to sleeping with her! Where is your logic, counsel?"

William winced. In his exuberance, his sheer happiness at their growing relationship, he had lost perspective of the entire situation. Belatedly, he realized that the meeting with Tom Bennet, and without Elizabeth, was a complete and utter mistake.

Tom sat silently looking at him, noticing the changing emotions traversing his face. And he was transported thirty three years back in time. A similar situation, a face to face meeting with an irate father... he remembered the fear, the disappointment, the trepidation of the moment. Swallowing his pride, his chagrin over the turn of events, he proceeded.

"Darcy, I don't know you well enough to even start thinking about answering your question. Since I've got all day, why don't you give me the facts, from beginning to end. I'm listening."

And William spoke. He spoke earnestly, honestly, and directly. He opened up his emotions as best as he could, given the circumstances, at the same time protecting Elizabeth's modesty.

As the brass wall clock ticked away, Tom Bennet's anger mellowed, replaced by incredulousness and eventually a bittersweet acceptance of the events. He understood enough of men, to realize that William was taking a great risk in speaking to him, that he was exposing himself to unknown hurt and pain. William had demonstrated a high degree of courage. Tom Bennet understood and respected courage in others; William had behaved in an honorable manner, and for that, Bennet gave him credit.

After some time, the flow of words decreased and stopped altogether. Bennet, in a decidedly softer tone, began questioning him.

"Does Lizzy know you're here?"

"No."

"I see... and have you asked her to marry you?"

"Yes."

"And what was her answer, Darcy?"

"Not... yet."

Tom Bennet laughed again, this time, a broad hearty laugh mixed with relief. It managed to cut right through the suffocating tension in the room.

"That's my Lizzy! Are you sure you know what you're getting yourself into?"

It was William's turn to smile. "I think so, Tom."

The older man stood up, and without any preamble, walked over and gave William a swift hug, man to man, patting him on the back.

"Son, you've got my permission to ask for her hand in marriage... again. Now what about that business proposal?"

The older man stood by the window, swirling a glass of Scotch in his hand, surveying the outdoor landscape. His finely lined cheeks were stained, here and there, with traces of tears; tears of relief, and tears of loss, the loss of young love in his own life. He hoped with all his heart, that the two lovers would grow and flourish, and not follow in his own forlorn footsteps.

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