[Completed* - Modern/R]
As the plane touched down, blinding sunlight and vivid colors seeped steadily into the cabin, trailing in with them a tropical warmth.
"Welcome to Miami: temperature today is a balmy seventy five degrees, expect sunny skies and low humidity. Thank you for flying U.S. Air..."
The routine was entrenched in her mind. Quickly collecting her minimal luggage, she hailed a taxi for the short trip across the I-95. As the downtown concrete jungle receded, the causeway to Key Biscayne beckoned; a long finger languidly pulling her in, a promise of peace and rest. Elizabeth began to feel deliciously relaxed as Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic assaulted her senses. Turquoise waters, salty air, rolling expanses of lush vegetation sped by.
"Great new brunch at Sundays on the Bay 'mam!" the taxi driver offered.
"Do they still have that insect problem on the terrace?" she replied.
"Yup - but they now offer a can of spray with the appetizer!"
They both laughed. Sundays was a typical tourist restaurant with mediocre food but a wonderful, though not quite redeeming, view over the Marina. Thankfully, as one traveled west over the Key, the culinary experience improved.
Key Biscayne had become her family's winter respite over the years. For Elizabeth, it was a balm to her hectic and pressured life in Canada. Several times a year she carved out a few days to decompress. A colorful mixture of Latinos, Cubans, Floridians and Canadian "snowbirds", it viewed itself disdainfully as a separate entity from Miami. The causeway was both a link and a barrier to the mainland. Peppered with high end hotels, homes and condominiums, it boasted excellent beaches and marinas, attracting a luxe yet low key crowd. If one craved excitement, South Beach was but a short drive away. Many, however, preferred to stay within the peaceful confines of the Key.
As they eased into the circular drive, she marveled at the lush vegetation and bird life. Luckily, their complex abutted a National Reserve, which provided visual stimulation tempered by a peacefulness only such places could offer.
"Welcome back to the Towers, Signora!".
"Thank you Enrique" she replied walking through the opened door, luggage in tow.
Located on the second floor, the apartment was light and airy. Sparsely furnished, its walls were comprised mostly of windows overlooking tropical treetops beyond which lay the beach and ocean.
God... it's good to be back.
She padded into the mirrored master bathroom with its sunken Jacuzzi and changed into a bathing suit. Too many mirrors in this place... she muttered to herself - a constant reminder of one's attributes or lack there of.
She eyed herself critically. Not bad for early thirties...
A statuesque five foot eight brunette, Elizabeth exuded a sophisticated sensuality. Tapered long legs, gently curving hips, a well endowed bosom, all harmonized to a devastating gestalt. Elizabeth was aware of her attractiveness but absolutely ignorant of its potency to the opposite sex - therein lay her charm.
Donning a sleek black one piece - am absolutely not ready for bikini - she headed down toward the pool and pavilion. Salt air hit her with a rush. Being late in the afternoon, a calm had settled over the pool and gardens, leaving but a few spent stragglers heading home.
Oohh bliss... She slipped her jetlagged limbs into the warm, salty pool water, proceeding to glide with smooth strokes, peace descending upon her.
An authoritative, deep timbered voice intruded into her quiet cocoon, "Excuse me - I was wondering if I could borrow your master key to enter the lobby area - I seem to have lost mine on the ..."
Damn it, will not bliss out after all... Irritated, she opened her eyes.
Life is punctuated by seminal moments, suspended particles of time which sublimate into one's psyche. Elizabeth, unwittingly, was experiencing just such an event. Synapses firing, reconnecting - new pathways forming - pulsating releases of neurotransmitters - reverberating circuits - to be tapped again and again.
The stimulus behind this response stretched out before her. A pair of sinewy, darkly tanned , exceedingly well muscled legs supported a rather well endowed derriere. Narrow hips flared up to meet unexpectedly firm abdominal musculature. A broad chest wall curved up to even broader shoulders. Her gaze arrested on his face: Godiva chocolate eyes - fringed by a thicket of dense lashes, sculpted eyebrows flitting over a patrician nose and full , sensual, lips. All this tantalizing sultry maleness was topped by thick dark brown curls speckled with gray here and there.
A questioning lift of his brows jolted her inventoried reverie. "Uumm... yes.. they are on the lounge chair by the hibiscus - you could just throw them back once you're done."
"Wiillss... Sweetie..." A garish apparition swathed in orange and fuchsia strutted up beside him. Her pointy face was dominated by oversize Gucci glasses. Sparse blond spiral curls floated desperately over a stick thin body She teetered on high heeled sandals topped by huge.... God were those orange dragonflies? Someone's been shopping in South Beach.
The so called "Wills" turned and curtly replied, " Caroline, I need to borrow the lobby keys."
"But William - pumpkin - I found them in the sand - Oh! Here they are!" She proceeded to fish them out coyly from her diminutive cleavage.
Bending towards Elizabeth, he offered, " I am truly sorry for interrupting your swim - my apologies again." He straightened and strode away - orange woman teetering behind him.
And what a walk it was. Long confident strides - a man with a purpose, in control, eating up the scenery with natural and athletic grace. Stop the analysis, she chided herself. Her swim interrupted, she dried herself quickly and overcome by lassitude, decided to leave the beach till the morning.
A half hour later, she found herself attempting to light an outdoor barbecue nestled by the gazebo. Tall palm trees fringed the area - accented by sea grass and flowered shrubs. Beyond it lay the beach , banded by a tropical sunset.
After three failed attempts to light the grill, she began muttering "Merde..."
"May I be of assistance?" a rich baritone echoed..
She turned. Within arm's length stood the stimulating male of her previous acquaintance. His height was quite imposing and he was now more formally attired.
"Your matches don't seem to be doing the trick - let's try my lighter."
"Uumm..yes..thank you." She regained her composure. "Since I almost lent you my keys - I suppose you owe me a return favor." This was so unlike her, unabashedly teasing a complete stranger. What must he think of her?
Momentarily taken aback by her playful tone, he pierced her with an intense gaze. Never one to back down from a challenge , he replied , drawing out each word. "Really? And what kind of favor did you have in mind?"
Flustered, and transiently stuck in her own quagmire, Elizabeth resorted to a reaction quite familiar to her. Great, another of those hot blooded stud brains! She retorted angrily, "Well, I did say ALMOST - therefore that would necessitate the return favor to be quite- shall we say - minuscule?"
He chuckled, holding up a beautifully shaped hand, palm up, a peace offering.
"Touché,mademoiselle, je suis désolé!"
Responding in mellifluent French, "Franchement , monsieur, vous êtes insupportable!"
"Au contraire , mademoiselle, je suis innocent!"
Instantly they both laughed - tension snapping like a dry electric spark.
"So, Miss Bennet, your French accent is remarkable."
"I grew up in Montreal Mr. Darcy, your accent is Parisian, am I correct?"
"Yes, I have spent some time in Paris," he replied.
Suddenly, he pointed to Elizabeth's steak, "I think it's being flambéed as we speak!"
Leaning over expertly, he rectified the situation and proceeded to carefully place several salmon steaks and vegetable skewers on the neighboring grill.
"Are you the chef tonight?" she enquired.
"I'm afraid so - though I've had some help from my friend Charles - perhaps you know him - he owns a place here, Dr. Charles Bingley - he's Canadian".
Eyeing her appraisingly, he noted the warm flush on her face, the curling tendrils of brown hair, sensuous lips, and a pair of very fine eyes.
Coolly, he scanned her figure. A sophisticated man, his tastes were well delineated in his own mind. She seemed girlish, fresh and vibrant - yet her eyes belied something deeper - a playfulness mixed with reserve, strong intellect offset by humor. And boy, did she ever have a magnificent pair of ...
"Mr. Darcy, do you intend to flambé your salmon steaks as well?"
"Touché again!" he grinned, returning his attention to the task at hand.
The grin had a devastating effect on Elizabeth. It lit up his entire countenance. Momentarily, she glimpsed the little boy, quickly replaced by the man. He is positively ravishing - she thought- as her heart pounded away in a staccato rhythm. Composing herself, she turned to him. "Actually, I'm not acquainted with Dr. Bingley. Thank you for your help with my dinner this evening. Bonsoir Mr. Darcy."
"Bonsoir mademoiselle," he answered, not looking back, playing it cool, yet feeling an intemperate heat well up inside him. Must be that damn grill...
That evening, she lounged lazily on her balcony, admiring the remnants of sunset broken up by shapes of outgoing cruise ships on the horizon. Laughter and the tinkling of glasses floated up from the gazebo. Aah.. it must be Mr. Darcy et al... I hope his salmon is edible - she chuckled to herself.
The party appeared to be packing up. Out of sheer curiosity, she stood up and craned her neck for a better view. At that instant, William glanced up and caught sight of her silhouetted form. His lips formed into a rakish smile, and for the second time in their very brief acquaintance, he raised his arm. A salute, suspended in mid air, mocking yet inviting at the same time. Receding into the shadows, she chose to ignore him. No Mr. Charming, I shall not return the favor.
Later during the night, nestled amidst soft white linens, windows open to the ocean breeze, muslin curtains wafting about her, she dreamt of......Paris.
The new morning was indeed glorious. The beach beckoned. Grabbing her water bottle, Elizabeth ventured down to the beach for her routine morning run. All was quiet, a few elderly walkers and some joggers, passed her by at a respectful distance. This was her favorite time of day. Settling into a comfortable pace, breathing in the bracing air, her eye was caught by a tall form running towards her.
It was him again.
Leg muscles rippling with each elongated stride, glistening with sweat, was the magnificent form of Mr. Darcy. Each party was aware of the other - but neither willing to demonstrate it. They passed each other without breaking stride. However, at the last moment, Elizabeth relented, shouting out, "Don't lose those keys again!"
He, in turn, shouted back, "You'd owe me another favor!" and continued in the opposite direction.
On her return, a dip in the pool proved to be the perfect antidote to her exertion. This was followed by some quiet reflection time at the gazebo. Settling herself on the deck chair, she emptied her mind, focusing on the to and fro motion of the ocean waves. Water had always drawn her, soothed her with a primitive embryonic pull. Her musings were interrupted by a startled voice.
"Elizabeth Bennet is that really you?"
She looked up at a warm smile framed by dancing blue eyes fringed with golden blond wisps of hair. Momentarily confused, she placed the face in its proper context. "Charlotte - Charlotte Lucas - Nursing '86? "
"The very one!"
With a delighted squeal they ran towards each other, laughing , hugging, babbling in unison.
Charlotte and Elizabeth had been roommates for a year in Nursing School in Canada. They had lost touch over the years, but held on to fond memories of their shared dormitory days. Cozily settling in at the gazebo, they proceeded to catch up amicably. Finally, landing back to the present, Elizabeth enquired. "So, what are you doing here anyhow?"
"Well, my boyfriend Charles owns a condo here, we're on a two week holiday. Oh! Liz! You have to meet him and spend some time with us."
"Charlotte, I've got to attend this function tonight at the Ritz..."
"Not the outdoor dinner extravaganza? We'll be there too. Why don't we meet at the lounge, sixish?"
"That sounds wonderful, see you there Charlotte, gotta go!"
"Liz... I'm so glad we reconnected."
"Me too.. me too.. " Elizabeth gave her a warm smile and gently touched her shoulder while walking away.
As day slipped into evening, Elizabeth found herself looking forward to the event. Though she held a responsible position at the psychiatric outpatient clinic of the Barnes Institute, she was also co-director of a charitable foundation. This evening she was to meet a potential donor, Bill Hurst, a business associate of her father. He'd expressed an interest in supporting her medical education projects abroad.
Meryton Plastics had been her father's brainchild. Through sheer drive and determination, it had become a successful medical equipment company, an innovative leader in a competitive niche market. The charitable foundation was an off shoot organization of the successful company.
Following a leisurely bath, Elizabeth pondered her wardrobe. After some deliberation, she settled on black figure hugging silk pants, a form fitting black bustier, topped by a delicate, transparent, black vintage lace tunic. She completed the ensemble with her favorite Manolo Blahnik mules and intricate silver and jet earrings. Satisfied , she piled her hair into a deliberately wispy up -do.
Ladies and gentlemen, elegance with an edge! She thrilled, twirling around , fringes of her tunic settling gracefully around her hips.
Recently opened, the Ritz- Carlton's neo-classical architecture and burnished gold color scheme exuded wealth and refinement. As Elizabeth entered the lounge bar she scanned for familiar faces. Immune to several fixed and interested stares, she floated toward the back of the room
"Elizabeth- over here!" Charlotte waved across the room. "I didn't recognize you in that gorgeous outfit! Let me introduce you to Charles."
"Honey, this is my girlfriend form Nursing School, the one I mentioned earlier."
Elizabeth found herself being assessed by a pair of clear hazel eyes. Medium height, slim, late thirties, with soft dark blond hair, he possessed a gentle, temperate air. Funny, somehow I don't see him as Charlotte's type... she mused to herself.
"Madame, would you care for an aperitif?" a white tuxedoed waiter questioned.
"Yes, Kir Royal please," she replied.
At the mention of this, a familiar deep timber echoed, "A most singular choice..."
"We are destined to cross paths, it seems, Miss Bennet."
Charles turned to his friend - an eyebrow cocked in surprise, "You two are acquainted Darcy?"
"Just the briefest of acquaintance," Elizabeth countered. Spotting her date for the evening she excused herself.
Bill Hurst beamed a jaunty smile upon her. Lord, she was gorgeous! He'd known her for fifteen years and had watched her blossom. Thrice divorced, he loved nothing more than attending lavish functions with a beauty on his arm. Tonight , however, this beauty had brains, and he suspected, bite as well. He would behave himself, she was the daughter of his business associate, and therefore off limits.
Dinner was being held on the expansive outdoor pool terrace overlooking the quiet ocean. White linen sparkled under candles and tropical flower arrangements. A band played soft calypso sounds in the background. T he air was balmy, a slight breeze lifting the edges of white here and there. A languid atmosphere prevailed. Elizabeth wistfully wished she were here with someone who truly mattered.
Suddenly, she felt a pair of intense dark eyes fasten on her. A few tables away sat William Darcy - fixing her with a fierce and decidedly glacial stare.
You are a multi-faceted wonder Mr. Darcy;first polite, then devastatingly charming, and now, cool and hostile...
On his part, William tried but couldn't tear his eyes away from her. Since the chance meeting at the pool, he'd felt and electric attraction to her. She was beautiful, she was sultry, she was smart, and she was not his. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man's lust is exponentially amplified if the object of his desire possesses an elusive, unattainable quality. Elizabeth had it in spades. She oozed sensuality with a "catch me if you can" subtext. It was maddening, it was unsettling - it did not sit well with William's considerable ego. And now, observing her cozied up to the old codger - a white haired, playboy type, arrogantly displaying his prize - William angered. Women and their attraction to "old money"... His mouth hardened, his jaw muscles twitched. He sat rigid and still; a mass of seething ferocity, following her every move.
"William - sweetie - are you going to sit here and scowl all night?"
Caroline had been awaiting this evening for some time. She lived for such occasions - enjoying the glitter, the dress up, the make believe. In fact, these events were the highlight of her existence, the remainder of her life a mere "filler" until the next extravaganza. A true narcissist to the very bone, she needed William's presence to elevate such moments to an altogether higher stratosphere. She had decided years ago that William was the perfect companion in her search for self-fulfillment; there only remained the small matter of convincing him of the fact. Caroline had conceived a multi-tiered strategy; this evening was but a small step in her grand design. It was imperative she danced with him. Her mind was set.
William sensed that he was trapped. He had surmised Caroline's grand plan some time ago. Y et, perhaps out of loyalty to Charles, her brother, and a need to feed his own sense of self-worth, he continued to play the "game". He knew it was not fair to her, knew there would be eventual repercussions, however his conscience had not caught up to him, yet. Reluctantly, he heaved himself up and escorted her to the dance floor. As Caroline and he wove through the tables, Elizabeth noted Caroline's ginger feathered flapper ensemble. That woman looks like a fuzzy carrot... She wondered at the relationship binding the two, what possessed him to be attracted to her?
Bill Hurst had proved to be an entertaining escort throughout the evening. As the wine flowed, so did his gregarious sense of humor. Elizabeth noted the keen intellect masked by his convivial manner, she answered his questions earnestly. Finally, he agreed to endow the foundation with a substantial gift directed at her safe needle project in Haiti. Mission accomplished ... She sighed, relaxing for the first time that evening.
Deciding to stretch her limbs, she meandered among the newly planted hedges, admiring ornate urns and topiaries. A cascading sound caught her attention, she found herself drawn towards a lovely courtyard graced by a circular fountain. The water shimmered hypnotically. Suddenly, her trance was broken by the resonance of familiar voices.
"Come on Darcy - why don't you ask her to dance? She's one of the most attractive women here tonight!"
"Charles, I'm not interested in sharing my evening with some Nursing School graduate with a sugar daddy on the side."
Elizabeth halted in her tracks; she was the woman in question! Rage welling up within her - she spun around and marched toward the offending party - startling both men.
"Charles, I meant to ask you, would you consider presenting at a psychiatric symposium we'll be holding in Toronto this spring?"
"Liz, I'm sorry, I don't usually do speaking engagements for the Nursing Program."
"Ohh.. I see... A clarification is in order. Charlotte must have failed to mention this to you... I'm actually Dr. Elizabeth Bennet - director of Mood Disorders at the Barnes Institute."
Pointedly looking at Darcy, she continued, "I was accepted into Medicine after one year of Nursing."
Darcy felt his mouth dehydrate by the second. "Speaking of medical education, one of my father's associates, Mr. Bill Hurst, will be supporting the charitable foundation I direct. Perhaps you could speak to him about your recent experiences abroad Charles, he happens to be my date tonight."
Eyes blazing at William, she spun around and triumphantly stomped off, black fringes swaying furiously about her hips.
"Ouch......" Charles muttered.
"Damn, she must have overheard us..." A completely stunned William replied.
"I never made the connection when Charlotte mentioned her. If she is THE Dr. Bennet I have heard of, then we have just met the world's foremost expert on post-traumatic stress disorder. Major repairs are in order Darcy."
For his part, Darcy was most disconcerted - a rare occurrence. He prided himself on his ability to read and evaluate others. His mind was extremely swift and logical. He synthesized data rapidly. He seldom erred. As a result, the thought of repairing this gaffe sat uncomfortably on his very broad shoulders. He felt awkward. He was out of his depth and out of practice. Pondering the situation, he reluctantly arrived at a solution.
Elizabeth felt a light touch upon her shoulder. Looking up, she glowered. "Yes/ This better be worthwhile."
"Mademoiselle, pardonnez-moi mon faux pas, permettez-moi de vous inviter à la danse?"
"Is this in lieu of an apology Mr. Darcy?" she countered.
A truculent smile curled his lips. In response, she stood and sauntered toward the dance floor, William following gingerly. To the strains of Nat King Cole, they began dancing, Elizabeth's anger grudgingly mixing with a charged awareness of his presence. His firm, warm grasp on her waist and hand was distracting. A woodsy muskiness tinged with citrus emanated from him. Mmmmmmm... She thought, against her will. The feel of his steely muscles against her sheer tunic, his magnetic voice and that wonderful scent made her synapses sing. This man was no lightweight - raw animal intensity lurked beneath his controlled veneer. She savoured having the upper hand at that moment. I'm taming the beast - you Mr. Darcy...
"Do you always jump to quick assumptions on meeting strangers?" she enquired with a steely tone.
"I was just responding to evidently incomplete and erroneous information regarding you person," he replied formally.
"Incomplete information tainted by prejudice against younger women socializing with older men?"
"This area is notorious for such scenarios, Elizabeth."
"And your pride cannot abide such scenarios William? Or is it the fact that you thought me to be a mere nurse? By the way, Charlotte is just that, you know, yet Dr. Bingley does not appear to have a problem with it. Nursing is a very noble profession - would you not agree?"
William was stunned - here was a woman he barely knew - giving him a veritable tongue-lashing. Oh how his ego suffered. This would not do...not to be out done, he countered by pulling Elizabeth closer to him and breathing seductively in her ear. "What perfume are you wearing this evening? It's intoxicating..."
Matching his tone, she whispered back, drawing out each syllable, "Hypnotic Poison..."
She felt his body stiffen.
As the dance music paused, she disentangled herself from his grasp and proceeded to sashay away from him - hips swaying - head held high - leaving him standing, frozen, on the dance floor.
The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth turn in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command my love
That was there at my command...
Written by Ewan MacColl
Having stranded William on the dance floor, she managed to elude him for the remainder of the evening. The sweetness of her perceived triumph began ebbing away, replaced by a bittersweet wistfulness.
Elizabeth found herself feeling inexplicably dissonant. Was it the mixture of anger and attraction she felt for him? Was one fuelling the other? Or could it be his superior, suave, impenetrable persona? She was irrefutably adept at analysis; it was, after all, her profession. She prided herself on her astuteness and insight. However, with William, she was flummoxed. A proper perspective was missing. She did not have control, and she resented it with every fiber of her body.
Bill Hurst finally excused himself for the evening, retreating to his suite at the Ritz. He graciously offered his chauffeur to drive Elizabeth home. On overhearing this, Charlotte and Charles countered by suggesting a ride back in their Jeep.
"Thank you, but I'd rather walk on the beach and make my way back to the condo." Elizabeth responded.
"Oh Liz, it's not safe!" Charlotte replied worriedly.
"I'll be fine, it's just a few minutes away, really... why don't you give me a call tomorrow...goodnight."
Descending the steps leading toward the beach, she slipped off her mules, letting them dangle from her hand. The sand had cooled from the diurnal heat. The ocean was calm, surf lapping softly about her. Following the charged emotions of the evening, she welcomed the silvery twilight about her. Approaching the entrance of her complex, she was astonished to discern a solitary dark figure sitting on the sand with forearms dangling casually on drawn up knees. Gradually a realization of his identity seeped into her consciousness - it was William.
He had observed her approach for some time. As she neared, he felt his heart begin a pounding insistent rhythm. He caught his breath - the sight of her floating, sheer tunic back lit in the moonlight, clinging in the ocean breeze, was spellbinding. She drew near him, resting to a stop just a few feet away. Near enough to distinguish his features, yet far enough away to feel protected. He lifted his eyes and locked her in his gaze. Minutes trickled by. No words were exchanged. The ensuing silence was suffused with tension and significance. Elizabeth was shocked to see the naked, raw, beseeching plea in his eyes; a silent supplication for forgiveness, for another possibility in their brief connection. Her cool, quizzical look softened, finally melting into a tender warmth and lighting up her eyes.
She lowered herself next to him and whispered, "Apology accepted Mr. Darcy."
"Elizabeth, I'm so sorry..."
"Shhhh...you have said enough."
"Thank you," he replied humbly.
"Beautiful night isn't it?" she began somewhat ineptly.
"Mmmhhh..." he replied.
"So... did you enjoy your evening tonight?"
"If you discount my terrible gaffe, the sound thrashing I deservedly received and being left stranded on the dance parquet by a beautiful woman... why ..yes.. it was a delightful evening !" he grinned. That devastating grin again. A shiver ran through her entire body.
"Are you cold? Here, let me lend you my jacket." He removed his tuxedo jacket and draped it carefully around her shoulders. Elizabeth's senses were assaulted by a woodsy , musky scent - his scent. Reaching for safe conversation she turned to him and asked, "Since you know my profession, what exactly do you do for a living?"
"I'm a lawyer," he responded - deliberately vague - somehow sensing a new danger looming ahead.
"What area of law, William?"
"The corporate commercial side of a plastics corporation".
Her curiosity greatly piqued, she persisted. "What corporation are you affiliated with?"
She froze - letting out a long breath. "My family owns Meryton Plastics- we just settled a lawsuit with your employer.
The evening's magic evaporated . It was his turn to freeze. He stared at her - a cold, fixed disbelieving glare. "What did you just say?"
"We recently settled a lawsuit with your employer," she repeated.
"Elizabeth - I am the head legal counsel for Pemberley - my family's company."
Time stopped. Neither party knew what to utter. Had there been no family connection, the whole scenario could have been managed, laughed at. But this was personal, very personal. The lawsuit had been a source of grief for both parties involved. Elizabeth was only cognisant of the most general facts. She had learned that Pemberley's legal team had been ruthless in their attack, bent on damaging Meryton's reputation. Pemberley was ten times Meryton's size - a giant corporation flexing its legal muscle against a niche competitor. I must get more details on this case...surely Wickham could fill me in...
As Elizabeth pondered the intricacies of the corporate world, William pondered the intricacies of her luscious lips. Damn the lawsuit! Here he was, with this gorgeous, intriguing woman, on a romantic moonlit beach, within an inch of losing his highly vaunted self control.
She turned toward him. "William, it's getting late, and we've both had enough surprises for one night. Thank you for your jacket, perhaps we'll meet again."
Alarm bells began resonating in his chest, a steel vice clamped around his heart. He could not, he would not let her go this way!
Swiftly reaching out he circled her arm. The touch was riveting and electric. She remained rooted in the sand, unable to move a muscle. His hand wove up her shoulder, leaving a blaze of inflamed nerve endings standing at attention. Suddenly, she felt herself enfolded in a sensual crush of woodsy muskiness, massive shoulders, steely heaving chest. Her lips assaulted by a feral bruising pressure, quivered in defeat. Molding his mouth against her softness, he proceeded to possess and ravish every fiber. T ongues sparred and intertwined, desperately plundering each other's depths, rapidly mounting to an explosion of pure lust, until both came up for air - gasping.
"William, nice boys don't kiss like this..."she whispered hoarsely.
"Oh yes they f---ing do!" he growled back, "Perhaps I'm not such a nice boy after all, Elizabeth."
Tearing himself away, he held up her hand, kissed her fingers lingeringly and let his gaze rake over her one last time.
"Till we meet again."
Rooted in the sand, she watched his tall proud form recede in the darkness. Till we meet again.
Kir Royal : crème de cassis mixed with champagne topped with a twist of orange.
Hypnotic Poison: a seductive sensual scent by Christian Dior.
Any fine, crisp and chilled Chardonnay will do.
As the bright morning filtered through the sheer white columns of her bedroom, Elizabeth stirred from her deep slumber. "Mmmmm..." Stretching languidly, she let herself float amongst the recollections of last night's events. Images meandered in her mind: the Ritz-Carlton's spectacular gardens, William's stunned look at the fountain, his strong grasp encircling her waist, shadowy contemplative figure on the beach, the silky feel of his tuxedo, his scent, THE KISS...
A shrill ring interrupted her reverie.
"Hullo," she croaked into the receiver.
"Hi Liz, it's Charlotte. Oh! No! Did I wake you up?"
"Mmmph - what time is it?"
"Around ten thirty."
"Damn... I must have slept through the alarm, sorry Charlotte, what's up?"
"I was hoping we could do a girls' day out - go shopping to Coconut Grove - up for it?"
"Sure, anyone else tagging along?"
"No, just you and I - we can catch up some more Liz!"
"Okay, see you in the lobby in one hour!"
Coconut Grove - a charming old Hispanic neighborhood bordering on the Bay, offered cafes, funky shops and plenty of atmosphere. It was an excellent antidote to the events of the previous night. Exhausted after traipsing through the village, the girls collapsed at the "Bouchon du Grove", an intimate French bistro. Elizabeth debated whether to confide last night's events to Charlotte, but instinctively held back. She needed to mull over the evening herself, digest it, filter it through the intricate maze of her considerable intellect.
While lingering over a glass of crisp Chardonnay, Charlotte brought up the topic of William.
"He's been a friend of Charles' for years. Charles has tremendous respect for him. He's become a mentor of sorts, even though William is only two years older. He's reserved with most people outside his closest circle, why he just warmed up to me recently. I know he's had relationships in the past, within the last year there's been no one."
"What about Caroline?"
"Oh, she doesn't really count Liz. William is cool toward her - she's rather abrasive isn't she?"
"I hardly noticed..." Elizabeth muttered under her breath, trying to digest all the information Charlotte offered.
"How did you and Charles meet?"
"He was part of the visiting faculty at the Hospital last year, we worked together and somehow one thing led to another..."
Charlotte was a neonatal nurse in Toronto, Charles in turn, a pediatrician.
"He's based in Montreal, but flies into Toronto regularly. It's a long distance relationship at present. I"'m not sure where it will lead to.. one aspect truly worries me... we have so much fun, we talk, we laugh... bur when it comes to physical intimacy... the "fit" just doesn't seem right... I usually need some alcohol in my system to truly feel at ease with him...in bed ...I mean."
Interesting, I must have picked up on that earlier...Elizabeth mused.
"Perhaps you two just need some time..."
"Perhaps, Liz," Charlotte replied quietly.
"Oh! I forgot to mention that we have to pick up Charles at the Marina this afternoon. He and William went fishing, do you mind?"
Yes I do mind, am absolutely not ready to face that gorgeous mass of testosterone. But her fondness for Charlotte won out.
"That's fine, let's go."
The marina was teeming with activity. Charlotte scanned the parking lot - no sign of Charles - the women proceeded to the dock.
"Let's see if I can find William's boat".
"He owns a boat?" an incredulous Liz asked sharply.
"Why, yes, he actually lives on it when he's stationed here."
Standing out among the multitude of yachts and power boats, was an imposing sleek ocean cruising motor yacht, the name Monte Cristo emblazoned on its hull. Pristine white decks juxtaposed elegantly with shaded gray windows. Though sophisticated, it nonetheless spoke of a hidden menace lurking beneath it.
Please don't let this be his yacht.
But it was.
Charlotte turned to her, "Isn't it marvelous!? You can navigate the world in this baby. He had it customized and built in Italy. It's called a Maiora 26."
At that very moment, Elizabeth glanced William's chestnut curls peering through the cabin door. He startled. He certainly was not expecting her here! Having just stepped out of the shower, his curls clinging haphazardly, he appeared boyishly disarming. Elizabeth's heart skipped a beat. She couldn't help but notice how his white t-shirt adhered to a still wet torso; pectorals powerfully delineating his athletic physique.
"Elizabeth..... uuhhh... welcome aboard."
"Hello William....I...we...Charlotte asked me to accompany her...otherwise I wouldn't...."
So, she's just as flustered as I am...Good!
Holding out his hand , he invited both women on board. Charlotte accepted his proffered arm and stepped in. With a defiant look, Elizabeth jumped on without assistance. The yacht boasted a main saloon, dining room and galley. Sleek décor and warm neutral tones spoke of restrained luxe mixed with functional comfort. Elizabeth had never seen such floating luxury. So this is how the jet set lives. She peeked inside the state rooms. There were four, with a separate crew's quarters.
Back at the wheelhouse - William sat in the pilot chair, in front of an intricate console panel filled with dials and radars. He turned, piercing her with his gaze.
"Do you approve?"
"There are a few who would not approve, William." She continued, "Why did you name it Monte Cristo?"
"It's after a nineteenth century novel: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alex..."
"Alexandre Dumas, père!" she completed his sentence.
"Why, yes.." He looked at her surprised, "You've read it?"
"All fourteen hundred pages of the original version Mr. Darcy," she struck back. "It's one of my favorite novels."
"Really ? How curious - it happens to be a favorite of mine as well." He added, "I was always drawn to the theme of revenge in its plot."
She gazed at him thoughtfully. "Mmhhmm... interesting... I, on the other hand, saw it as a battle between good and evil - in the end forgiveness being the central theme."
William remained silent. His swift intellect attempting to grasp at divergent conclusions. This felt like a verbal fencing match; his opponent ready to thrust and parry at every turn. Now William was not avers to verbal sparring, it was a familiar arena in his field of law, but hell, he'd never had to face a sexy psychiatrist before! He experienced a swell of anger mixed with grudging admiration and something else. That something else was exerting a persistent pressure in his nether regions.
It is common knowledge that a great variability exists in the morphology of the male species. Fortunately, Darcy men had developed over the centuries certain dominant genetic traits, which assured their successful procreation. William was the lucky recipient of such formidable endowment. To his great consternation, the said bequest was growing by the minute. This woman was gliding under his skin in a most infuriating way. Holding on to the last shreds of his restraint, he muttered under his breath, "I shall conquer this..."
Noting his discomfiture, Elizabeth let her eyes graze over his splendid form. She delicately lifted her brows at the sight of his evident discomfort. You are one magnificent stallion William Darcy, and you know it. With wicked deliberation, she opened her purse and withdrew a lipstick and compact. Leisurely, provocatively, she applied the lipstick to her pouting lips, outlining every curve with the sleek, moist tip. Satisfied, she closed the compact with a snap and turned to him.
"May I borrow a tissue?"
Stunned - ready to come apart - he shakily reached for a nearby box - offering it to her without a word. Opening her mouth she locked her lips upon it , and let the wisp of tissue float down on the console, a perfect outline branded on its whiteness.
Charles chose this moment to interrupt gaily. "Would anyone care for a drink? We've got a fine California Chardonnay chilling in the galley."
Reclining back, stretching his legs on the saloon banquette he drawled, "Isn't this the life Elizabeth?"
"Mhmm.." she responded, relieved to have left William's charged presence above deck.
"How long are you here on the Key?"
"I'm leaving in a week" she answered, "Duty calls."
Charlotte looked at her beseechingly. "William was hoping to take the boat down to Key West tomorrow. Would you like to join us? Pleeaase?'
"Well, I don't know, Charlotte."
William cleared his throat descending into the saloon. In the most civil, polished tone he could muster at the moment he offered, "Really, it's no trouble - the boat sleeps eight easily, there's plenty of room. It's an easy trip, we'd be back the next day."
Elizabeth certainly did not want to disappoint Charlotte so early in their acquaintance. This was an incredible piece of sea faring technology not to mention its captain... "I guess that's a yes then!" She looked up at William and found herself locked in a gaze of ferocious intensity. An invitation to dance or to duel Mr. Darcy? Her mind questioned.
At that instant, Charles caught their exchange. A knowing smile turned the corner of his mouth. William Darcy, the master of self-restraint, was battling some very intense and primitive emotions Perhaps he'd met his match after all these years. Funny, Charlotte has never made me feel this way...
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum: Key West mansion and gardens of late Nobel Prize winner from 1931 to 1961. Populated by sixty cats, all descendants of Hemingway's original feline companion.
"You are up early this morning, signora!"
"Too early Enrique - I'm going boating to the Keys."
"It should be a fine day, enjoy!" With a flourish, Enrique opened the door as a green Jeep pulled up into the circular drive.
"Hi Liz! We'll be one party short today.'
"Oh. I didn't know we were expecting someone else."
"Well -yes - Caroline was supposed to join us but..."
"Come on, Charlotte," Charles prodded, "Liz is a physician, you can tell her."
'Well, alright, Caroline had facial Botox injections yesterday - unfortunately she developed an eyelid droop in her right eye."
Liz chuckled,the eye ptosis was a well known side effect of Botox. Though temporary, it was a nuisance. Attempting a professional tone, she replied. "It should clear in a few days, how unfortunate for her."
The morning sun had risen but a half hour earlier. Fresh crisp air filled Elizabeth's lungs as the threesome ambled up to the dock. Experiencing a tingle of anticipation at the upcoming excursion, Elizabeth shivered slightly. Charles caught her reaction and kindly draped his arm around her. "Don't worry Liz, William's been boating for twenty years. Actually that's as long as he's been flying, come to think of it.." So he's both an air and sea captain - it explains the authoritative manner, the take charge attitude.
Monte Cristo's engine idled quietly as William sat in the captain's chair, completing a final instrument and weather check. Attired in a striped blue and white polo shirt and white shorts, he certainly looked the part. Greeting the group with a cursory glance he motioned to the cabin, "Good Morning ! There's fresh coffee and juice downstairs, help yourselves, we'll be casting off in twenty minutes."
As William expertly maneuvered his yacht out of the marina, Elizabeth reclined on the forward deck, enjoying the last of her excellent coffee. The sun's beams warmed her skin, ocean air whipped her hair into a mass of chocolate curls. As the blue waters glided by, she stretched languidly and contemplated the glorious day ahead. She closed her eyes - letting the moment carry her. The gentlest graze flickered against her arm. William settled himself beside her. She observed him through half closed eyes, then stiffened.
"Who's at the helm?"
A low chuckle escaped his throat. "Il ne faut pas s'inquieter - Charles is quite capable of handling this boat on the open water- I just came by to check on you, feeling okay?"
"Are you worried I might be getting sea sick Mr. Darcy?"
He laughed shaking his head, "No Elizabeth, I rather missed your challenging presence at the wheelhouse."
"Oh, so you consider me a challenge?" she asked defiantly.
"A most pleasurable one, I'm afraid."
Changing the topic she observed. "This is an incredible boat William, I love the water."
"So do I - I much prefer staying on the boat than on shore. It's my home, my domain, no pretenses. I find that I can recharge must faster on the ocean. I think I'm going to grow old and gray on this vessel!" he laughed genuinely.
She eyed him musingly. He was allowing her into his inner most sanctum. She felt a thin veil of caution lifting and quietly whispered.
"He was an old man, who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream..."
"Ernest Hemingway - The Old Man and the Sea - gotcha back Elizabeth."
Her lips curled up in a teasing smile, yet she did not pick up the bait this time.
"Funny, I recharge best near or in the water too. But I also love the mountains. There is something about one reaching the sky and the other nearing the core of the earth - both seem to speak to a primitive spiritual yearning..."
Listening to her voice, hair whipping about her, William sat captivated by her words. He desired to touch her. Tentatively, his hand caught a stray wisp of hair and tucked it behind her ear. Her gaze deepened, questioning his intention. She studied him:her eyes cat-like, narrowing , assessing the achingly handsome man sitting so close to her. He enquired lightly.
"Truce it is, William," she replied.
At that, she stood up and with feline grace, and stretched her arms above her head. Strangely contented, she moved toward the stern. He remained fixed in his seat - focusing on regulating his erratic heart beat.
His mind leaped from the words which let him glimpse beneath her cautiously protected exterior - to the beautiful exterior itself: her eyes, the mass of tangled curls, the upward thrust of her breasts as she stretched and the bare expanse of lean belly so inadvertently exposed. He willed his blood to redirect its flow back to his cerebrum. Momentarily, he thought of jumping into the water to cool off. Don't be stupid, man, there's sharks out there! Finally, regaining his senses , he stood up gingerly and made his way back to the main deck.
Once there, he spoke to Elizabeth's turned back, "Would you like to visit his house in Key West?"
"Whose house William?"
Chestnut locks cascading down her left shoulder, she curved her head toward him. A stunning pair of eyes bore into his.
"I would love to".
The Gardens Hotel: A restored 200 year old West Indies style mansion surrounded by tropical flora, found in the middle of historic Key West. It captures the essence and romance of the small elegant hotel.
Beverage suggestion: A warm mug of rich Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea ( you'll know why...).
They docked in Key West by early afternoon. William had radioed ahead and clinched a berth on the eastern side of the Key. Charles showed off his culinary skills with a scrumptious luncheon on board: linguine pescatore, crusty bread and mixed greens all washed down with liberal amounts of Sauvignon Blanc. Following the long boat ride, sunshine, and fresh sea air, an easy camaraderie had settled on the group. William and Elizabeth were each holding up their end of the truce. Her opinion of him had considerably improved over the course of the sea voyage. She was suitably impressed by his mastery of the large vessel. He was smart, he was strong and she felt safe in his hands. William, in turn, began accepting her competitive edge, quite enjoying it in fact. Her unpredictability spiced his reactions. She certainly was a handful!
"Charles, did you pick up the slight weather disturbance on the Gulf side?" William queried.
"I did indeed Darce, but figured it would move just south of us."
Having cleaned up the spoils of their meal, the group headed out into the old town of Key West. Meandering among the colorful streets, Elizabeth marvelled at the picturesque pastel character of the architecture around her. Rambling vines, lush greenery, contributed to a most sybaritic atmosphere. True to his promise, William led them through a tour of Hemingway's home. Now a museum, it provided a wonderful glimpse of life on the Key in days gone by, just as they had heard, it was overrun by an diverse array of cats, a truly whimsical sight. As they threaded their way back to the marina a few drops of rain began falling.
"Darcy, maybe that front is a lot closer to us then we initially thought" Charles declared worriedly.
William quickly dialed the weather station on his cell phone, his jaw tightened at the news.
"There's been a sudden change in the direction of that cold front - they're expecting gale force winds in an hour. An urgent boating advisory has been sent out. I'm sorry but we're stuck here till tomorrow, and we should stay on land, it'll get pretty rough on the water."
Taking in Elizabeth's look of concern, Charles cheerfully replied, "Well there's no use fretting let's make the best of it!"
Joining in, they quickly locked the boat down, Elizabeth noting William's reluctant and wistful face as they left the marina. He truly loves that boat.
William made a few more calls and turned to the group.
"There's a small hotel within walking distance from here, but unfortunately they have only two rooms left. Ladies, how about you share one, and Charles and I get the other?"
"Darcy, ever the gentleman," Charles teased.
They hurried over cobbled streets, a new heaviness apparent in the air, pedestrians scurrying at a rapid pace about them.
On Amelia Street, they came upon "The Gardens Hotel". Delicate white colonial buildings bordered a private botanical landscape. An opened black filigreed iron gate welcomed. The hotel was a luxurious enclave made up of several buildings nestled among dense foliage, flowering shrubs, and snaking paths. A gazebo , garden sculptures, and central pool, all added to its tropical charm. As they were being shown to their adjoining rooms, Elizabeth turned to William.
"I would be happy to defray ..."
"No." he cut her off sharply. "I should have paid more attention to that cold front this morning, it's on me."
"You're most generous William" she replied, while inwardly seething. There's very little maneuvering with you captain.
Charlotte twirled around the room, "Liz, can you believe we're doing this, you and I, after all these years! Oh! Look! Terry robes and fancy toiletries! This place is great!"
While dressing for dinner, they chatted pleasantly about the day.
"So what do you think of William, Liz?"
"He's ...most intriguing...complex...and difficult to sort out at best... a mixture off extremes...oh! I don't know Charlotte...I'm damn good at analyzing people who aren't close to me - but my vision gets very hazy once proximity is at issue."
Charlotte laughed. "Isn't it the truth! Most physicians are absolutely hopeless when it comes to themselves or their family, now we nurses on the other hand have much healthier perspectives overall."
So Elizabeth was beginning to fall under the famous Darcy spell. Charlotte had known William for a year, he often came to Toronto. After several thwarted attempts, she had given up on understanding his mix of distant charm, strength, and emotional aloofness. Y et, he'd grown on her. There was an unspoken agreement between them: each nurtured Charles in their own way. With that commonality a genuine bond had grown between them. Charles, of course, was oblivious to this.
Having showered first, Elizabeth sat on the deep outdoor porch, a protective cover against the increasing torrent of rain. Ensconced in a wicker rocking chair, she took in the gardens surrounding her, simple yet evocative of a gentler time centuries ago. And it was thus that William came upon her - rocking gently on the wicker recliner - hair pinned up with a few delicate wisps framing her face. A pale, cool pink clingy silk chiffon dress outlining her figure - barely grazing her ankles. It appeared to be made of thin tissue, layers artfully arranged upon one another. The sight was reminiscent of some mysterious blossom. How very fitting.
"You are a vision this evening, Miss Bennet!"
"It seems to me ,Mr. Darcy, that each time you address me so formally, you are in fact flirting outrageously, would you not agree?"
Now William rarely blushed - but the sudden burst of chemicals attacking his endocrine system resulted in such rapid vasodilation , that it was beyond his control.
Elizabeth was secretly pleased with his reaction. So you still have it for me, big boy.
Her victory was short lived. She found her own body betraying her. Her heartbeat fluttered and a slow heat began building within her. She desperately tried to focus on the rain, but her gaze riveted back to meet William's openly admiring and very flushed look.
"So where are we off to dinner tonight?'
"The Marquesa, just a short walk away."
Charlotte and Charles emerged from their respective rooms, each carrying large umbrellas.
'Okay, you two, Charlotte and I get one umbrella and you're stuck sharing the other!"
William offered his arm." Shall we?"
Winding their way through green paths, the couples finally emerged on the street. As fate would have it, the promised gale winds hit with a vengeance. Both umbrellas overturned with a spectacular snap! William seized Elizabeth's hand and broke into a run, pulling her down the tree lined cobbled street. Spanish moss dripped rivulets of water, seeping into their clothes. Any casual observer would have been riveted by the two forms, dashing with exuberance, strides matching one another, two kindred spirits drinking in a new found freedom. T hey sprinted into the restaurant, dripping and gasping for breath, William possessively clasping her hand.
"That was one hell of a ......" He stopped in his tracks as his eyes arrested on her torso. The chiffon had metamorphosed into a transparent mess of tangled pink wisps of tissue. Elizabeth's breasts were proudly peeking through the fabric and they were...magnificent. She instantly recognized her predicament. What the hell, let him have an eyeful. At that moment , Charles and Charlotte burst in laughing, spraying the pair with more rain.
"Oh Liz! Let's freshen up!" Charlotte exclaimed, taking in her friend's revealing attire.
With as much dignity as they could muster, the two drenched women proceeded down the length of the restaurant - more than one pair of eyes following their progress.
Once inside, they collapsed in a fit of giggles. Elizabeth attempted to dry off her dress with limited success. She would give the men an interesting dinner diversion.
Perhaps it was the heady romantic atmosphere of the intimate restaurant, or perhaps it was the delectable gourmet offerings, but mostly it was the several bottles of very expensive wine which eventually resulted in Charles and Charlotte being completely and utterly "sloshed". The couple stumbled out of the restaurant followed by a very uneasy-looking William and Elizabeth. The wind and downpour had not relented and they all arrived back at the hotel soaked to the marrow.
To Elizabeth's horror, Charles and Charlotte tripped clumsily into the "girls'" room and closed the door behind them with a definite "bang" !
Leaning against the porch column, William watched the happenings with sardonic amusement.
"I'm sure they'll come out eventually, why don't we dry off in my room." Noting her petulant expression, he added as an afterthought. "I'll stay out here until you've finished."
She murmured a grateful thanks and went inside. Cold, wet, and shivering, she had no change of clothes. Quickly scanning the room she noted a set of white terry robes. Peeling off her soaked clothing, she wrapped one around her and ventured outside. William was lounging on a rocking chair, sipping on a mug of tea. He motioned to a second mug waiting on a nearby table.
"I ran to the main guest house and got us some tea. I thought you might need a bit of comfort after the downpour." She settled on her own chair and gratefully cradled the steaming mug. They sat silently , listening to the rain, enveloped by the fertile and musky smell of warm soil and vegetation.
"William, you'd better get changed, you will catch a chill."
Highly unlikely...He thought , observing her above the rim of his mug. Snuggled in the oversize robe, feet tucked under her, she exuded pure sexiness. Women, wet hair, white robes... The combination was arousing. He returned a few minutes later, wearing dry clothes.
Leaning back against the balustrade, arms crossed in front of him, narrow hips thrust forward, he began questioningly.
"So... How long do you think we'll have to wait?"
She responded with an exasperated sigh, "Judging by how much they had to drink tonight, they might very well fall asleep."
"Then it becomes an all-nighter Elizabeth."
"You have a wicked mind Mr. Darcy."
"And have you noticed Miss Bennet, that when you flirt with me, you use my formal name?"
It was Elizabeth's turn to blush. He was insupportable! She thought furiously. Had they not called a truce earlier! Had she misunderstood its meaning?What if he had taken it as an invitation? Between that kiss and her wet display he must think of me as some bargain basement thrill!
"Look William, let's stop here. I hardly know you and we are in a pickle! I propose to stay out here until Charles comes out. Why don't you go and get some sleep. We need an alert captain tomorrow."
"Elizabeth, you can't stay out here all night!"
"Watch me! Now off you go!"'
With an exasperated sigh he moved toward the door, but froze in mid stride. Nobody ( except for Mrs. Reynolds) addressed him in that tone. Retracing his steps, he leaned toward her and planted a soft kiss on her cheek.
"For a most enchanting evening, I thank you..." Turning around, he closed the door behind him with a soft thud.
Must he always have the last word?
At long last alone, Elizabeth realized she was not relishing her solitude. An unsettling dichotomy raged battle within her. Part of her angered at William's sardonic amusement with their situation, the other yearned to rush into his arms for a reprise of their last embrace. Exhausted by the turn of events, she burrowed into the safety of her robe and closed her eyes - just for a moment...
Sleep was eluding William. He tossed and turned on the bed. Images of Elizabeth on the boat, Elizabeth on the beach, soaked in pink, running hand in hand with him, and now, swathed in white, all swirled into one heady watercolor. Venturing outside on the porch, he encountered the seed of his discontent. She lay curled up in her robe, breathing rhythmically.
The rain had finally stopped.
He sat across from her, observing her still profile shadowed by dense lashes, her lips the color of a ripe plum.
You're infatuated, man.
With slight hesitation, he walked over and gently lifted her up, relishing cradling her warmth against his chest. Reflexively, she nuzzled against him and in doing so her robe gaped open. A lovely pale globe tipped in pink peaked out.
God...She is luscious.
He stepped into the room, settling her on the bed nearest the window,his fingers delicately brushing her breast. He hovered above her recumbent form, a bundle of sexual tension mixed with awe and tenderness. Finally, unable to resist, curls falling on his forehead, he gently licked the puckered pink tip. Instantly she stirred, moaning. He suckled ever so softly without waking her, drinking in her essence. Elle est si douce, si belle... Reluctantly and with great care he covered her with a blanket.
Lying down on the bed next to hers, head propped up on one arm, he gazed at her in wonder. A curious peace settled over William, a visceral contentment, and eventually sleep won over.
B.E.D.: Miami South Beach restaurant where guests lounge on mattresses with optional gauzy curtains. Two popular desserts: Ménage a Trois (peanut butter and jelly torte) and Roll in the Sack (apple filo pastry). Waiting List: two months.( I kid you not, this place truly exists.)
Suggested beverage: a strong brew of the best Columbian coffee you can get your hands on.
Elizabeth woke with a start. This is definitely not my bed!.... Charlotte and I were sharing a.... Oh! No!.. I'm supposed to be on the porch!... Hell.. where am I?
She turned over tentatively, letting her eyes focus.
O.K. I see the alarm clock.. Good.. A lamp..V. Good...
An electric charge jolted her fully awake. There, on the bed next to hers, a mere four feet away lay tousled brown curls, an aquiline profile, incredible lashes and a muscular arm carelessly curled around a pillow.
What? They had shared a room! Damn!
She tried to recreate memories of the previous night, scanning for any behavior she might regret, none surfaced.
She looked back to William's form on the rumpled sheets - his torso now partially exposed- muscular back beautifully defined, screaming to be stroked. Reigning in her craving, she eased herself off the bed, eyes raking over his sleeping form, and tiptoed past him, sneaking into the bathroom. Once safely ensconced there, she leaned back against the door and closed her eyes.
Oh! My God! .... Turning on the shower, she blissed out under the jets. As the water splashed on to her skin, reality trickled back in. Wrapping a large white towel around her, she tiptoed back out - having forgotten her purse on the dresser.
At that moment, William chose to awaken from his deep slumber. He stirred. She froze. He turned over. Her eyes widened in surprise at a most telling rise under the white sheet . So... he'd had very sweet dreams after all. He stretched panther like and let out a low groan. A slow realization dawned on him stilling his features into an expressionless mask as his gaze settled upon her naked form swathed protectively in a white towel.
"Good morning Elizabeth. You're all wet again and wrapped in white terry, a recurrent theme it seems."
"Good morning to you too," she snapped back, "I see you've risen early."
Something clicked in William's brain. No! Surely she couldn't mean... Hell let her look, her breasts last night, my.... this morning. A fair exchange my lady. He cocked an eyebrow in her direction.
"Look William, since you've got more access to clothes than I do this morning, would you kindly wake up the love birds and get my bag. I'll be eternally grateful." She slammed the bathroom door behind her.
William was crestfallen. Their truce had broken down somewhere between last night and this morning. Pondering his next move, he returned a few minutes later with her belongings. In his hasty and preoccupied state he'd completely forgotten to put on his shirt, as result, a full frontal image greeted Elizabeth as she stepped out of the bathroom. Forcing herself not to stare, she grabbed her bag and retreated to her haven for the third time that morning. The image of his rippled pectorals, broad shoulders and snaking tuft of chestnut hair disappearing below narrow hips was most indelibly imprinted onto her brain.
On leaving the room she turned to him and stated icily, " All three of you have some explaining to do." Settling herself at one of the breakfast tables on the terrace of the main House, she felt the coffee's warmth seeping through her system. Her anger slowly began to ebb away. By the time William arrived, clean shaven and smelling of fresh soap, she was feeling generous enough to indulge him with a grudging smile.
"I see the Dragon Lady has retreated," he ventured.
"Don't push your luck Sir William, she's still lurking underneath."
"You must admit, Elizabeth, the situation last night did have a comical side."
"I fail to see the humor in it, by the way, how did I end up on the bed?"
He looked at her pensively. I better tread carefully here... Choosing his words cautiously, he proceeded with a sterile version of last night's events.
"You were sleeping on the rocker, I didn't have the heart to wake you, so I carried you inside."
"Is that all William? Really?"
"Do you wish there had been more Elizabeth?"
"What I meant was .... Did you behave in a gentlemanly manner?"
"By which century's standards, Elizabeth?"
"Must you be so tangential in your questioning Mr. Darcy?"
"Must you always analyze Dr. Bennet?"
"It's my profession , after all," she answered defensively.
"And my profession calls for tangential thinking, I'm a lawyer if you recall. " Softening his tone he enquired "I hope your good opinion of me hasn't been altered by our recent circumstances, Elizabeth?"
"Who said I had a good opinion of you William." With that reply, she rose, walking away. "I'm going for a walk, goodbye."
William remained seated and contemplated her receding form. The rarity of the situation dawned on him. In the past, he had always been the one retreating from women, enjoying the power and the hold he exerted in such situations. Here, he felt stripped of his authority and this divestment left him feeling very naked. Yet despite the constant bruising his considerable ego endured at her hands, he kept returning for more. He could not get his fill of her. She assaulted his senses so very completely. That very ache, spawned upon first meeting her, had insinuated itself into his inner core. Unbeknownst to him, it slowly began to shift the foundation of his self disciplined control, opening up a new world of possibilities. William Darcy was falling in love.
Walking in a most determined fashion, she passed by multihued pastel dwellings, her mind seething and oblivious to the beauty surrounding her. So energetic was her pace, that she was surprised to glimpse the ocean ahead of her. Settling on a bench, she lost herself in the movement of the surf, and slowly the anger receded. William had been a gentleman...He'd taken the most logical option in bringing me back to the room. Heck, he even got me a cup of tea, quite gallant of him actually... and yes... it had been a comical situation...plus he'd been so very gracious on the boat...and was paying for the hotel.
Finally it sunk in; she resented his authority, his persistent prideful nurturing, his strength. She was so accustomed to being in the same position. He was usurping her territory! This was foreign to her, she'd never been drawn to assertive men in the past. She felt quite unsettled. Elizabeth Bennet was scared.
Finally reaching a decision, she retraced her path back to the hotel, her step a little lighter. Charlotte and Charles sat at William's table. Sunken in their seats, subdued, both wore dark sunglasses. Elizabeth ambled up to them, and pulled up a chair.
"Liz, we are so sorry about last night. We had no idea how it would end up! I mean we never planned... you know... we're just so embarrassed...how can we make it up to you?"
Charlotte gave her such a hang dog expression that Elizabeth burst out laughing .I'm sure they've already suffered enough from last night's tryst.
"Look, things happen - we're all adults, it's fine - I hope you don't regret the entire evening..."
At this, Charlotte blushed and Charles muttered something incomprehensible. William sat observing Elizabeth intently.
The boat ride back to Key Biscayne was quiet. Charlotte and Charles, sedated by a cocktail of Gravol and Tylenol, remained ensconced below deck. Elizabeth deliberately avoided William at first. Finally, feeling she had pushed the boundary enough, she joined him at the wheelhouse. The day was beautifully clear and sharp, as days after a storm tend to be at sea. Sensing her presence, he turned in her direction.
"Would you like to try your hand at the wheel?"
"Oh, alright..." she replied.
His hands reached toward her, positioning her at the controls. His chest barely touching her back, he enveloped her in the most tender of embraces, guiding her every move at the wheel. The sheer pleasure of her closeness was electrifying. She, in turn, felt exquisitely cocooned in his arms. Minutes went by and neither said a word. He edged closer and rested his chin on her head while inhaling deeply. This is heaven... me..her..my boat.
Charlotte's light brown curls appeared from below deck, noticing the duo so enthralled, she stopped and slowly retreated her steps back down to the cabin.
Elizabeth tilted her profile up to William. He was so close, she could feel his breath fanning her neck, whispering into her ear. She raised her eyes and looked into his. Each became lost in the other's gaze. Gently tipping her chin he circled her mouth with his thumb. His lips, feather light , molded onto hers. Slowly she allowed him in; control momentarily became relinquished, walls came tumbling down. Deliberately, he continued his sensual exploration; a master tasting the finest vintage while savoring each drop. Layer after layer of tension and misperceptions were plucked and peeled away, landing about her in a defenseless heap. He leaned his forehead against hers and whispered,
"You good opinion, once lost, is not lost forever is it?"
"No, it is not , William," she replied rewarding him with a dazzling smile.
While the couple above deck became reacquainted, the duo below deck schemed away. How to make it up to Elizabeth and William? Finally Charlotte sat up, clutching her head. "I've got it- let's take them out for a fabulous night out on the town in South Beach ...dinner....dancing... with a promise that we will both be the designated drivers!"
"Brilliant idea my sweet!"
They staggered up the steps, Jane deliberately making lots of noise. T hey found William at the wheel and Elizabeth by his side, both looking flushed and somewhat tousled. Charlotte gave Charles a knowing grin.
'So, it's decided then. Charles and I are taking you and Elizabeth out to South Beach tomorrow night and we'll both be the "D.D.'s !"
"No!" Elizabeth and William exclaimed in unison. William turned to Charles.
"Why don't we meet the two of you at the designated destination instead!"
"Alright Darcy, how about that new restaurant B.E.D. where you get your own oversized mattress for the evening and I hear they have these great desserts..."
"No!" Elizabeth and William both chimed in again, this time bursting out laughing.
'How about the Blue Door at the Delano, Charles?" William countered.
"The Delano, Darce you're going to make quite a dent in my wallet... just kidding big guy!...."
As the outline of the Key appeared on the horizon, Elizabeth experienced a mixture of relief and disappointment. So much had happened in the last twenty four hours. Her brain resonated with a rich cornucopia of images and sensual experiences. She felt somewhat overwhelmed by the depth of emotion William had unleashed within her. It was intoxicating and seductive but she very much needed to breathe. Once their interlude was interrupted, an awkward stiltedness had replaced their previous intimacy. It's to be expected, we hardly know one another...
On disembarking the boat , she reached up and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you for everything William."
Giving her a searching look, he replied, " Till tomorrow then."
She walked away hurriedly, catching up to the other couple, turning back only once. She caught sight of his tall proud form, a muscular leg propped on the boat railing, his eyes following her every move.
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