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Ebb and Flow
[Completed* - Modern/R]

chapter six

The Delano Hotel : Luxurious, chic minimalist hotel in the heart of the Art Deco district in South Beach. Surreal décor, rooms famous for their white on white scheme with a fresh green apple as the only touch of color. A favorite of the celebrity and jet set crowd.

The Blue Door Restaurant: Signature restaurant at Delano. World class cuisine in dramatic and elegant setting. Billowing curtains and overstuffed banquettes with lounging super models.

Suggested drink: A Pink Martini, vodka and pink grapefruit juice.

Lying on a bed of warm granular sand Elizabeth let the memories of recent days roam around freely in her mind. Normally her jaunts to Key Biscayne were peaceful low key affairs, requiring very little socializing and filled instead with much needed quiet reflective time. So far, she'd experienced more emotional turmoil in a few days than some of her patients did in weeks, and they required medication to cope with it all! Why did that man intrigue her so? Why was he so damn alluring? Certainly it wasn't just the jaw dropping physical presence. This was becoming an exercise in futility. She couldn't turn on her clinical acumen, the man drowned out her logical voice with consuming power. Had she met someone who could outmaneuver her? The thought was terrifying.

As the subdued morning spilled into a long and lazy afternoon, Elizabeth's jangled nerves decrescendoed into a soothing lull. Standing under the tall canopy of the imposing lobby, waiting for William that evening, Elizabeth felt some of her old serenity and confidence returning.

The tall brunette was striking. A shimmering taupe silk sheath held up by the merest spaghetti straps molded her figure. She had wound a choker of rough cut amber and silver strands about her neck, and casually draped a sheer leopard print scarf about her shoulders. The air was hot and humid, redolent of spice and sunshine. Taking out her black sunglasses, she heard the sound of an incoming car - and suddenly her jaw dropped. So much for serenity.

Purring up the drive was a silver Mercedes SLK Roadster convertible, top down, with William behind the wheel. Hair tousled by the wind, dark glasses lending him a mysterious air, he looked devastatingly sexy. As he strode in her direction, her brain registered the fine cut of his black silk pants, the taut pull of his white jersey, and the casual drape of his grey raw silk blazer. Lawyers were not supposed to dress like this - not the ones she knew anyhow.

"Hi, all set?"

"If you'll give me a minute, I'll just wind this scarf around my hair, I didn't realize your chariot was a convertible William."

With the sheer leopard print gauzy material wound around her neck and hair, she took his breath away.

"William are you all right? Is something the matter?"

"I... you... uumm.. look like a... dangerous Grace Kelly tonight."

She laughed. "It must be the glasses!"

"Or the leopard spots..." he added still unrecovered from his reaction.

"Am I the predator or the prey Mr. Darcy?"

"Whichever you prefer Miss Bennet." He acquiesced.

Cruising in the convertible over the Miami causeways was simply exhilarating. Conversation being somewhat difficult, Elizabeth savoured the views of palms fringing the roads. T hey whirred by marinas and cruise ship yards. In the distance, South Beach beckoned; an Art Deco play ground, both delicious and decadent.

As they drove up to the Delano she marveled at the ingenuity of Ian Shrager and Phillippe Starck - the master minds behind the Delano's revival. Its front portico was flanked by floating white curtains and fantasy size furniture. It outshone the neighboring hotels. T hree white attired attendants rushed up to the Mercedes as they pulled in to a stop. William elegantly flung the keys to the nearest attendant with a few words in Spanish. How many languages did the man speak? Guiding her by the elbow, he led her up a long flight of steps. One did not just amble in casually -this fantasy hotel demanded an entrance. Caught up in the whimsy of the moment Elizabeth obliged with great dramatic flair.

Inside, floating white curtains rose thirty feet into the ceiling, deconstructed walls wafting in a mystical setting. They strode past artfully arranged seating areas, down the length of the lobby.

"Aahh.. Mr. Darcy- we were expecting you."

They were led to an outdoor terrace lit up by flickering candles for the evening. The lobby had been but a prelude to the back garden. Here, linen bedecked tables overlooked an expanse of grass stretching to the beach bar and beyond. Two walkways fringed by towering palm trees stood sentinel like on either side of the green. The grassed area stretching out before them was accented by whimsical pieces: a wrought-iron bed here, a ladder propped up against a tree there, a life size chess set further down. All led to a shallow infinity pool- in the middle of which sat an antique wrought-iron table flanked by two delicate chairs ready for tea - a veritable Alice in Wonderland tableau.

"William, this is enchanting.... I'm at a loss for words, and you know how rare an occurrence that is!"

Settling themselves at a secluded table, William turned to her.

"I'm glad you like it, the first time I came here I had the same reaction. It's pretty magical !" He smiled, happy to have shown her something new and unique, wanting to impart to her how he longed to do this over and over again.

"I wonder what's keeping Charles - he's usually quite punctual."

A waiter appeared with menus and a portable phone.

"Mr. Darcy - a Dr. Charles Bingley on the line."

"Charles?... Where are you?...What?..Where?.. I-95?... Are you alright?.. and Char?.. Oh... Thank goodness.. Do you need help?.. Alright then.. Good luck.. See you tomorrow."

He turned to Elizabeth - a frown creasing his forehead.

"Charles and Charlotte were in a minor accident on the I-95, they're fine but the car isn't. I offered our help but they feel they can manage just fine. By the time they're through with the police report it'll be too late for dinner. They're both granting us permission to conclude the evening on our own..." He grinned.

"Oh William, I'm sorry to hear that. Don't you feel guilty sitting here when they're stuck on the highway?"

He reached over determinedly and clasped her hand, his eyes devouring her hungrily. "No, I don't," he replied.

"Kir Royal Elizabeth?"

"You remembered... I hear they make a great Martini here."

He turned to the waiter and ordered, "La demoiselle commande un Martini Rose s'il vous plait."

When the oversize glass arrived, William's lips curled up in a smile - "This shade of pink reminds me of the dress you wore in Key West."

"Oh." She answered blushing, taking a sip from the glass. "That was some rain storm."

"That was some dress , Elizabeth."

Dinner proceeded at a languid pace - both parties relaxing in the surreal atmosphere. They conversed about the events in Key West; Elizabeth focusing the converstion on Charles and Charlotte, skirting more intimate questions and veering entirely away from the family business.

"Dessert, Elizabeth?"

"Only if we share."

"I see they have a Pavlova on this evening's menu." Elizabeth's eyes lit up.

"I love meringue, let's try it!"

Named after ballerina Anna Pavlova, the meringue base was filled with whipped dream topped with kiwis and berries. It arrived accompanied by two forks.

William picked up his utensil with a devilish grin and dug into the colorful confection.

"Hey... Not fair!.. Ladies first!"

He turned the fork away from his mouth and offered it to Elizabeth.

"I meant you to have the first bite all along..."

She parted her lips expectantly and he slowly and oh, so seductively, edged the fork in...Mmmmmmm... She closed her eyes in delicious appreciation.

Elizabeth had a sweet tooth. The second forkful was met by the tip of her tongue flicking away at the whipped cream. By now, William was completely undone.

Coyly noting this, Elizabeth picked up he own fork and scooped up a large raspberry sitting perkily atop the meringue and cream. Two can play Mr. Darcy... He opened his lips, and eyes fastened on hers, expertly flicked the berry into his mouth, proceeding to slowly savor its juicy sweetness.

This is entirely too erotic.. Her logic chimed in. Oh. Be quiet you...Another voice within her replied.

And so they took turns...teasing...tantalizing each other in a rhythmic pas de deux until the Pavlova disappeared to a few mere crumbs scattered on the plate.

Mustn't let this go to waste. Elizabeth licked her finger and scooped up the last crumbs. William's hand sprang out and grasped hers. He then proceeded to nibble off those very last few crumbs, his tongue delicately circling her trembling digit.

"Satiated Mr. Darcy?" she asked huskily.

'Hardly, Miss Bennet," he replied, gently massaging her palm with his thumb.

Withdrawing her hand from his, she stood up. " Let's explore the grounds William."

Walking slightly ahead of him, attempting to gain some distance between their torrid bodies, she noticed a swing suspended between two palm trees. Running up to it, she commandeered the seat. Soaring in the air, laughing, she tilted her head back, exposing a creamy neckline. Her dress floated back up against her thighs, silky legs catching the moonlight.

William watched her dreamily. She was a vision on the swing: part gamine, part woman. He was thrilled to see her unwind, relax and let go. A band had struck up by the beach bar, a few couples began dancing here and there.

After what seemed like an eternity, he stilled the swing and leaning toward her , his arms steadying the ropes , he whispered hoarsely.

"Shall we dance?"

Finding herself precariously close to tipping backwards she replied petulantly. "Do I have a choice?"

"No, you don't"

Scooping her up by the waist he pressed his whole turgid length against her.

'Mmmm...you smell of meringue and whipped cream, Elizabeth."

The choice dancing spots seemed to be taken. William scanned the area, his eyes settling on the shallow pool. Kicking off his shoes he bent down and untied her sandals. Grabbing he by the hand, he stepped over the edge, and ankle deep in water, they began dancing.

Instinctively, Elizabeth wound her arms about his neck, toying with the curly tendrils at his nape. They began a slow rhythm, his thighs insinuating themselves between her legs, her hips matching his tempo. Relishing the feel of his steely pulsating pressure against her pelvis, she ground herself into his driving hips, thankful for the coolness of the water contrasting with her raging heat. His hands seized the sides of her hips and began an unhurried , maddening circular massage, her dress riding up, dripping rivulets of water from its hem.

She no longer cared. What little vestige of self-control had existed was replaced with scorching wanton desire.

To William, she felt incredible - a writhing, undulating, elusive mass of pure womanhood. His forehead touched down to hers, sweet breaths intermingling, he murmured.

"It appears we're getting wet again, Elizabeth."

'Mmmm... all this makes me thirsty."

In response, William drew her in, melding himself to her hot, taut body and caught her lips in a fierce and devastating clasp. He dove deeply and plundered her mouth until it seemed to pulsate with a life of its own.

"Thirst quenched Miss Bennet?"

"Hardly, Mr. Darcy."

In a recessed corner - the tip of a cigar flickered in the shadows. Suddenly its owner startled. Focusing his incredulous stare on the attractive gyrating couple in the pool he muttered to himself.

"My, my Dr. Bennet, it seems you have a wild side after all... and if that isn't.. couldn't be... what the hell... counsel Darcy, well... I'll be damned."

Chapter Seven

Suggested beverage : a glass of very cold Evian water.

The music faded away as reality cruelly filtered in. Here she was, ankle deep in a hotel pool, dancing with and kissing a man she hardly knew. Reluctantly pulling away, she took his hand and waded out of the water. William unsteadily shook himself out of his reverie.

"Tired?' he inquired, his voice deep timbered yet tremulous.

"Somewhat."

They departed the hotel in silent agreement. As each layer of white curtain floated by them - both desperately wished to draw out their hypnotic interlude. The drive back was quiet, Elizabeth acutely aware of William's assertive hold on the wheel, his chiselled profile, and the sinewy shape of his thighs through taut black material.

As they cruised over the causeway to Key Biscayne, William unexpectedly veered off onto a beachside park. A favorite among the locals, it afforded a beautiful view over the Bay. Shadowed by the palm trees, he parked the car steps away from the sand.

"Why are we here?" she asked .

"There's something I want to show you."

She felt the car seat tilt backwards and found herself looking up at a clear night sky filled with stars. Leaning back, they stared at the multitude of constellations illuminated above them.

"See over there, that's known as the Big Dipper, for centuries it has guided people to the North Star. And there is Little Dipper or Ursa Minor. Persians saw it as a date palm, but in Egypt they view it as a jackal. My favorite interpretation is that of Ancient Norsemen; they call it "Hill of Heaven", home of the guardian of the rainbow bridge connecting heaven and earth. Elizabeth, I feel as if I'm on that rainbow bridge right now, with you..." Before she could reply, he continued, "the constellation up there, that's Cassiopeia, she was Queen of Ethiopia until she offended the sea nymphs, who bound her to a seat in the sky." Enthralled, she listened to his descriptions, lulled by the low cadence of his voice, a rapt pupil hanging on his every word.

"So, you're an astrologer as well, a true Renaissance man."

"When you spend years on the water, you learn to read the stars, plus if my instruments ever fail, I still have the ability to navigate."

He picked up her hand, palm up and slowly traced the path of her life line. "You will live long and healthy, Elizabeth." His finger sent chills down her spine. "And you will have one great long lasting love." He kissed her hand lingeringly .

"Are you in the habit of predicting you dates' futures, William?"

"Only the exceptional ones..."

She felt a gush of heat well up within her. He locked his eyes on hers, stars reflected in their dark intense orbs.

A long tapered finger began trailing from her temple to her cheek, finally resting on the pulse at the base of her neck.

"What do you call this lovely indentation Dr. Bennet?"

'The suprasternal notch William" she whispered.

She felt his body stirring, a woodsy, musky scent enveloping her - he leaned over - murmuring,

"Then I claim this spot ... as my own..."

He placed a deep possessive kiss on the throbbing pulse.

"In fact, I shall lay my claim to these as well..."

He gently eased the straps of her dress down her shoulders. Her skin glowed incandescent in the moon light. His lips drew intricate patterns over pink tipped globes, branding her over and over again. Meeting his loving caresses with a welcoming arch, she marveled at his self-restraint. Yet she could feel the contraction of his every sinew, a hard tightness gripping his entire frame, beads of perspiration collecting on his forehead. He's doing this for me...

A massive inferno welled up within her, lava flood pouring out , molten liquid igniting primal instincts. With a swift and graceful movement she straddled his lap and pulling his head down to her breasts, commanded.

"Kiss me hard... now..."

She felt his hips arch toward her, the heavy bulge of his sex pressed into her with spectacular force, almost ripping delicate lace and silk. They reprised their earlier dance, this time making their own primal savage music - hips undulating madly, his strong hands stroking, kneading, pulling away at the delicate fabric. Moaning, groaning, breaths gasping, his lips hungrily attacked any bare expanse of flesh.

"God... I want you...so badly..." he implored.

Suddenly a pair of high-beamed lights flashed beside them. Both stiffened. William quickly grabbed his discarded jacket and covered Elizabeth's bareness.

And it was thus that the police patrol officer found them; beautiful woman sitting astride the lap of Mr. Darcy, attorney- at- law, a mess of brown curls splayed out on his white jersey.

"Everything all right folks?"

"Uumm.. yes sir..." William replied attempting an official tone.

"That's a mighty uncomfortable position you're in 'mam."

"Just enjoying the fine view sir..." she replied mortified, burying herself in William's jacket.

"Alright folks, I have to ask you to move your car, no parking allowed after midnight. Oh. And 'mam, by the way, the view is in the opposite direction!" He flickered an impudent grin at the couple and strode away.

Magic interlude shattered, they looked at each other and burst out laughing.

"We've been caught!" She giggled, moving back to her seat. "This reminds me of being seventeen and getting caught with Denny Brown in his car.'

'Did he get as far as I did ?" William asked cheekily. " Good girls aren't supposed to do things like that Elizabeth.'

"Who said I was a good girl William?"

They laughed again, releasing the surge of pent up tension; two children caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Pulling into Elizabeth's lobby entrance, he turned off the ignition. It was late, it was dark and they were alone again.

"So where do we go from here Elizabeth...?"

And there it was; simple and clear. He was handing her the reins, she sensed the cost was high for him. Yet he trusted her enough to allow her the next move. A sacrifice at her altar. She was deeply touched. Reaching toward him, she placed her hand on his cheek. Leaning into his strong musky chest she burrowed into the tuft of hair sneaking out of his jersey, inhaling, committing the detail to memory.

He kept very still; waiting for her next move, muscles tensed and straining with exertion. She touched her lips to his - a soft, lingering kiss - whispering of promises. He returned it in kind, tasting her honeyed sweetness reverently, his arm tracing a secret pattern on her back. She sensed his tension and turgid control, both accepting that for now it had to remain this way.

"I had a wonderful time this evening, perhaps I'll see you tomorrow? Let's leave it open... I leave in a few days... Good night."

"Good night Elizabeth"

He gunned the engine and disappeared into the darkness.

Elizabeth closed the door behind her with a deep sigh. What an evening... The answering machine light flickered into her consciousness.

Changing into her pajamas, she listened to her messages.

"Lizzie, it's Jane, I'm calling from New York, my conference was cancelled at the last minute - so I've got three days to kill - would you mind if I flew down to stay with you for that time? I could really use the break. I should be in Miami tomorrow...Bye sweetie."

"Hiya babycakes, it's a hot sultry night here in Miami and I'm all by my lonesome - I saw your twin at the Delano tonight, and boy was she hot..., just got out of a cold shower baby... and if that wasn't your twin, then we have a BIG problem on our hands - call me tomorrow and let's do lunch...Ciao Bella."

Oh Merde! Her mind reeling, she paced the room furiously. How could she have been so careless? George Wickham at the Delano! What was he doing in Miami? Then she remembered, the yearly Southern Plastics Conference. Damn! The entire head office would hear about it and anyone else George decided to include in disseminating his juicy gossip. Thank goodness Jane would be here!

Chapter Eight

Bikini Line Cocktail: 1/3 ounce vodka, 1/3 ounce Tia Maria, 1/3 ounce Chambord. Shake with ice and strain into shot glass. Enjoy.

"So how was your dinner with William last night?" Charlotte enquired - both women lazing on deck chairs by the pool - sunshine beaming down on glistening bodies.

"It was great... the Delano is incredible Char... we had a good time...but I was worried about the two of you...are you sure you don't have whiplash?"

Charlotte smiled - "No my neck is fine but I have a bit of a heart ache."

"Oh...What happened?"

"Charles and I broke up." Charlotte answered with finality tingeing her voice.

" Do you want to talk about it?" Elizabeth enquired gently.

"There's not much to talk about, really. It was as if the accident knocked some sense into both of us. We realized we had a great friendship, and that it should remain that way. We weren't meant to be lovers Liz. We both knew it, but didn't want to hurt each other's feelings. His friendship means a lot to me , he's a pretty amazing guy... Strange how some people have chemistry and others do not. Now take you and William for example..."

Elizabeth blushed. "Is it that obvious Char?"

"Obvious? Girl ... that man absolutely sizzles when he's around you. You can cut the tension with a knife."

Elizabeth laughed uncomfortably. So others could sense it too. Changing the topic she added, "My sister Jane is flying in this afternoon, she'll be here for a few days, she was always fond of you Charlotte."

"Wonderful! I'd love to see her, but I have to go up and check on Caroline."

"What did she do to herself this time?"

"Promise me you won't laugh - 'cause if you do I'm going to go into hysterics. She had collagen injections yesterday and her face is so swollen she can hardly talk or swallow.."

"How old is she Char? That's a lot of cosmetic intervention."

"She's only thirty five, but believes in perfection - the external kind - if you ask me she should have psychiatric intervention instead," she added with a wicked grin, getting up and walking away.

Lying in the chair talking to Charlotte, reading, sunning, it all felt so ...normal. She reluctantly returned her thoughts to the one subject she had avoided at all costs this morning.

George Wickham.

The single biggest mistake of her life.

George had been hired by Meryton Plastics three years earlier. At the time, the company needed a strong legal presence - Wickham fit the bill. A brilliant legal mind, he had steered Meryton through several complex deals. He had quickly garnered the respect of Elizabeth's father who treated the company as another child,actually as his most significant offspring. Wickham's private life was another matter. An exceedingly striking- looking man, charmingly seductive, he prided himself on his multiple female conquests. He had an uncanny ability to understand the female psyche, their fears, their insecurities , their needs and desires. But Wickham misused, abused, manipulated and then discarded the objects of his torment. He was incapable of giving and nurturing. He had no capacity for love. Through dogged perseverance and creativity he managed to snare Elizabeth into a brief , passionate, and ill-fated "Affaire de Coeur."

Once she realized her mistake, it was too late, she had already slept with him. The experience had left a bitter and cynical after taste for many months. Having to see him regularly was exquisite torture. However, Elizabeth used her insight to torment him in turn. The two sparred and exchanged verbal blows with great frequency. Wickham found it amusing . She found it liberating. Others around them , not aware of their previous acquaintance, misconstrued the exchanges as a sign of great camaraderie. But deep down , Wickham was not satisfied, he persisted with the mistaken notion that someday she would be his again, as would Meryton , he was convinced it was his future destiny. And what he wanted he usually got.. With great trepidation she dialed her cell phone.

"George, it's Liz."

"Hey.. gorgeous... I had this fantastic dream last night..." he drawled into the phone.

"Cut it out and get to the point!"

His tone changed - a cold clipped menace surfacing. "Sleeping with the competition , Dr. Bennet?"

"None of your business counsel."

"It's precisely my business, baby face, Meryton just paid out one million to Pemberley and it's all that bastard's fault."

"I thought you were paid big bucks to prevent such payouts George, losing your touch honey?"

"Don't play games Elizabeth, and don't change the topic. Look... he's trouble. I've known him for years."

She was shocked into silence on the other line.

"We went to Oxford together, I know the family. We used to be roommates, friends, we skied together in France. It all stopped last year. Something happened."

"What ...Happened?"

He had her now. Wickham lived for these moments, he thrived on control, on having the upper hand. He struck swiftly and brilliantly. "I'd rather tell you in person honey cakes."

She debated, analyzed, hypothesized and finally, exasperated, she acquiesced. "Fine, how about I meet you at the Delano for lunch tomorrow. That is where you're racking up the company expense account right?"

"Diplomatic as always , by the way, does this mean I get a dance session in the pool?" he laughed .

"The only session you'll get from me, counsel, is electric shock therapy if you get too close," she answered icily.

"Come on, Liz, cut out the sadistic crap, we're supposed to be friends, aren't we?"

" For some time now, George, I've considered you to be but a minor acquaintance. Goodbye."

Flopping onto her stomach she buried her head into her arms, gritting her teeth. That slimy #*&@^&*#!!!

A deep timbered voice surfaced above her. It was him. Elated at the knowledge of his presence so close by, yet not ready to face him, she burrowed into her chestnut curls.

"Elizabeth, your back is turning a deep shade of rhubarb as we speak... Here, let me put some lotion on it, nice bikini by the way..."

She flinched as the cool liquid trickled onto her back, followed by a pair of strong hands massaging her tensed muscles.

'Mmmm...I think you need a little down here too.." The voice mumbled, as she felt the silky lotion melt into her calves and ankles. Finally , he finished off with her feet, a smooth sensual massage; his mind agreeably engaged, meditating on the very great pleasure a fine pair of buttocks could bestow. Elizabeth was ticklish, and she began giggling uncontrollably, finally turning over to meet his hungry gaze. William couldn't peel his eyes off her.

"Hi... you ." He smiled sheepishly.

His smile reverberated into the very pit of her stomach, amplified by the sight of his bare broad torso, and muscular legs.

"Hi to you too..."

An awkward silence enveloped the pair. William sitting back on his chair, one leg flexed at the knee, his hand resting casually upon it - fingers toying with a platinum ring on his right hand. Searching for a topic Elizabeth ventured. "Nice ring, let me see it more closely... what does the engraving say?"

"Carpe Diem - the Darcy family motto." She laughed earnestly at his reply.

"Seize the day! Let me see, does it tie in with the Count of Monte Cristo in any way?"

He appeared to seriously ponder the connection. "You mean the revenge theme as it applies to..."

"I was just teasing.... How about a dip ... in the ocean."

He helped her gather her belongings and they headed down to the beach. Wickham's words resurfaced in her mind, but she pushed them away into a recessed compartment, firmly shutting the door.

"What book were you reading Elizabeth?"

"The Edge of...."

"Hey, isn't that the same author who wrote Bridget Jones'..."

She eyed him warily. "Something wrong with that?"

"I thought physicians only read serious stuff..." he joked.

'We all need our brain candy William."

"I forgot you had a sweet tooth!"

" I seem to recall you do as well!" She started running splashing into the waves. The coolness of the ocean was bracing and refreshing. Unexpectedly, her waist was encircled by a firm and commanding grasp.

"Hey... you..." she protested weakly, not wishing him to stop.

"Shhhh... Look to the left....In the distance... dolphins"

He knelt on the sandy bottom, water coming up to his shoulders, balancing her form in front of him.

"They're so beautiful and intelligent" she whispered .

Comme toi , Elizabeth, he thought. They knelt still, the gentle surf lapping about them. William's arms sliding up-and-down her torso - soothingly - somehow sensing her tension- willing her to relax. And relax she did. Leaning back into him, she sighed, content. Her contentment, however, was short lived.; an insistent steely beam began grazing her buttock. He pulled her into his length - aching for her to feel his need. She slowly rotated her hips - mirroring last night's dance, as he reflexively tightened his hold - breezily letting his fingers flutter over her breasts.

"Mr. Darcy... I'm shocked - we're in full view of the beach."

Nibbling on her neck, he whispered provocatively, " So... We're under water..."

A hand began toying with the edge of her bikini - grazing her belly, tracing a delicious linear pattern on her groin , insinuating itself playfully under the bikini line, delicate, teasing...

"Thirsty?..." he breathed into her ear.

"No... hungry... " she murmured back, reaching behind her and snaking into his trunks. She stiffened...Oh, My, God.... The flat hard plate of his abdomen ended in a surprisingly full, lush and dense mass of curls surrounding a most commanding presence.

"You'll scare all the fish away, William..."

He was magnificent... She leaned back into him, silk on steel teased into a tantalizing rhythm, back and forth. And so they sat in the water; to a casual observer, a handsome couple enjoying a leisurely soak. But to the marine life below water's edge, an entirely different scene enfolded.

"Elizabeth... " he begged hoarsely "Please... stop... I can't..."

Enjoying the fruits of her labour, she persisted, " Oh but I thought self control was your strong suit."

"We all have our limits.."

She stopped her deliberate teasing and swam away. Suddenly, she looked up; on an overlooking balcony stood a blond figure with binoculars aimed directly at them. It was none other than Caroline! Relishing every minute, Elizabeth waived gaily in her direction, she than dove toward William resurfacing next to him and placing a long deep kiss on wet lips. The figure retreated hastily.

"What was that all about?" He eyed her quizzically.

"That, William, was for Caroline!"

She dove underwater again, a flash of leg glistening in the sun, his elusive sea goddess.

Hand in hand, they walked on the beach toward the lighthouse at the far end of the Key.

"If that truly was Caroline on the balcony, I'll have some explaining to do."

"I thought you two weren't going out."

"We're not, we never did and hopefully never will. However Caroline's view of reality is a little warped. She is a devious, scheming... cougar."

"William, those are very strong words!" A shocked Elizabeth replied.

"There is nothing more abhorring than the selfish sexual manipulation game some women are intent on playing."

"And you never participate in games William?"

He stopped in his tracks. She was right , of course, he was just as guilty as Caroline at times. "I hope that my intent is always crystal clear. I hate pretence of any kind."

"If Caroline is a cougar, as you so generously described her, then what am I ?"

" You... are... an exotic bird, that I would love to place in a secret garden and have all to myself," he replied huskily.

"I could really pick apart that imagery, Mr. Darcy."

"I'd rather you didn't Elizabeth," he replied with finality.

They walked , strides matching, bodies gliding in unison, occasionally making contact, keeping some invisible link alive between them. They spoke of his childhood in England, his legal studies. She, in turn, talked of Canada, her work at the Barnes Institute, her involvement with the foundation. Neither dared to broach the topic most distressing to both; Pemberley's lawsuit against Meryton. William wanting to protect the purity of each of moment, Elizabeth terrified of learning the truth. The seeds of denial planted, its destructive presence began a silent journey towards some unknown darkness.

"So, you're unattached right now?..." William ventured.

She smiled. "So it seems - for now..."

"I wish I could erase all the other men from your memory Elizabeth."

"There were not that many... How about you, Sir William , how many conquests to your name?"

"An entire harem, Lady Elizabeth," he teased with a rakish grin.

Accustomed to exclusive possession of all that mattered to him, the thought of Elizabeth in the arms of another disturbed him immensely. Since first meeting her, his instinct to seize and claim her had grown from an amorphous urge into solid conviction, rock like resolution. He felt an unexpected degree of impatience . She had to become his. His mind stubbornly refused to see any barriers , instead, at some primal level, she was already his. Seized if not yet claimed.

She startled him with her query. " I don't even know where you live."

"Well, it's rather complicated. I have a few places I call home. There's our family place in Derbyshire, an apartment in New York and a cabin in the Laurentians. Oh and a farmhouse in Spain on the Andalusian coast. She was stunned. This was so out of her league.

"Well, I share a little townhouse in Oakville, with my sister Jane, speaking of which, I had better get back as she's arriving here today."

Momentarily, he looked crestfallen."Oh... I was hoping to take you out on the boat this evening. Just the two of us."

She was astounded at the sheer look of disappointment which crossed his features, and was quickly replaced by the well known mask of strength and command.

"Look, I'm sure Jane won't mind, she'll probably just want to relax tonight - can I meet you at the marina this evening?"

"How about sixiish, I have a little surprise in store for you." He held her hand in his warm grasp , kissed he cheek and quickly strode away, leaving Elizabeth whirling in a million directions on the beach.

On her way back to the condominium she ran into Charles, back from a game of tennis, glistening with sweat, dark blond curls plastered to his forehead.

"Liz, how are you ?"

"I should be asking you the same question, Charles."

"Oh. I guess Char spoke with you... it's a bit awkward but we're big kids and we'll get over it, she's a great gal you know..."

At that instant, an excited voice rang out. "Lizzzie! Over here!..." Charles turned to look in its direction and every male fibre in his body responded to the apparition before him. A tall statuesque blonde, gleaming long straight hair , bottle blue eyes, with a knock'em dead body barely covered by a hot pink bikini, strode toward them. Elizabeth turned and ran into her arms giving her a huge hug.

"Charles, meet my sister Jane, she's here for a few days. Janey, this is Dr. Charles Bingley, he owns a condo here."They were sisters?? Where Elizabeth was undoubtedly attractive in a sophisticated elusive way, Jane exuded raw carnal sensuality. She oozed it ; it was there in her smile, her walk, the tilt of her neck. Yet, like Elizabeth, she seemed unaffected by it, wearing her obvious endowments with natural grace.

"I got here an hour ago, and just had to go down to the pool, after New York, this sun feels great!"

The threesome ambled back to the pool and made themselves comfortable on the deck chairs. Charles relishing every second in the presence of the two bikini clad beauties. Elizabeth spoke generally of their adventures in the past few days, and casually mentioned she would be meeting William for dinner. Jane gave her a questioning look but refrained from prying, she would get the details later.

"Jane, do you play tennis?" Charles enquired.

"Actually, I do a little.." She smiled back at him. Jane possessed a most self effacing manner, she had been a regional tennis champion in Ontario, but would never dare broadcast it . Elizabeth, well acquainted with her sister's operating style, looked at Charles pityingly. You don't know what you're getting yourself into baby.

"How about a game this evening, when it cools off..."

"That would be great Charles." What a pleasant fellow, this sure beats sitting in a conference room in New York! With that, she stood up and gracefully dove into the pool. Charles followed her swift strokes in the water. Pink had just become his favorite color.

Chapter Nine

Villa Vizcaya Museum and Gardens: Enchanting Italian Renaissance style villa and formal gardens near Coconut Grove overlooking Biscayne Bay. Built in 1916 as winter residence of industrialist James Deering. www.vizcaya.museum.org

Dom Perignon: French Champagne. Very nice. Very expensive.

Jane's smooth legs scissored back and forth in a lithely muscled rhythm. Lying flopped on Elizabeth's bed, chin propped up on her palms, she studied her sister speculatively.

"I'd go for the white one....sets off your hair and tan Lizzie... If I didn't know any better, I'd say you looked almost virginal..."

Elizabeth stopped brushing her hair mid-stroke. "Look who's talking..."

Jane graced her with a wicked smile. She and Elizabeth shared an easy friendship. Jane delighted in teasing her more conservative sister , particularly where men were concerned. Not that Jane was promiscuous; she had perfected her flirting technique at a tender age, then elevated it to an art as an adult. She relished the chase in a purely sensual appreciative way. Jane didn't play games. She was the game; an irresistible magnet to her many admirers. Her sweet, nectar- like sensuality - a barely transparent film to a deeper erotic promise. This tantalizing juxtaposition drove men into a frenzy. Yes, Jane loved men - but Jane had never been in love.

"So who is this William Darcy..."

"He's a lawyer, he's gorgeous, and he's a true gentleman... most of the time."

"Is he cuter than George?"

Elizabeth made a face. " Pleeaase Janey... Mr. Weasel Brain may be hot - but William has class. He's unlike anyone I've ever met."

"That's it?"

'What do you mean?"

"No deep analysis of personality pathology, childhood trauma, multiple neuroses? Lizzie are you losing your touch?"

She must be losing her head over this one. Usually Elizabeth had her male personalities analyzed, sliced, diced and packaged with a neat label on top, by the second date. It made it much easier to then walk away, logic assuaging her guilt. He must be a challenge...about time. Jane, on the other hand, shied away from such mental exertion. She preferred to live in a happy haze - Pollyanna - gliding through life with childlike ease. She was a hedonist at heart, exalting in the moment and much preferred physical exertion, of any kind.

"Be kind to Charles at tennis tonight, he's a sweet man. Oh, and don't stay up for me..."

"Take care little sister...Promise."

"I will."

~ * ~

Weaving through traffic, on the way to the marina , Elizabeth tingled with a keen sense of anticipation; not unlike the first snowfall, the first day of spring, her first kiss. A definite knowledge gripped her inwardly; this evening would be a linchpin moment in their relationship - a fulcrum around which some metamorphosis would unfold. The end result eluded her, and made her feel very wary.

William had been awaiting her, impatiently scanning the lot. Glimpsing her approaching form, he jumped off the boat and strode over expectantly. The wind was gustier this evening, ruffling his dark hair and batting away at his white shirt, partially exposing his tanned and muscled chest. He sported a five o'clock shadow, lending him a rugged air. Holding out both arms, he enveloped her in a massive crushing embrace.

Burying his head into her fragrant cascade of curls he murmured, "Bonsoir...Cherie.... Let's start off before we lose all the light."

"Where are you taking me William?"

"Shhh... you'll see..."

They eased off into the Bay . She, stretched on a banquette next to him. He, at the controls, confidently manoeuvering his vessel to some unknown destination. She memorized the chisellled lines of his face, drinking in his sheer male beauty. Soon, a waterside villa came into view. Majestic in its Italianate beauty; it seemed plucked from a Venetian landscape and deposited amidst tropical gardens.

"Come here," he ordered. Draping his arm around her he breathed into her ear. " Vizcaya awaits you my lady..."

As the boat neared, Elizabeth's eyes shone in astonishment. Wide steps joined the water to an outdoor terrace. Imposing pillared candles serpentined to a single white linened table gracing the center of the mosaic floor. A dream like setting flickered in the purple dusk. The seduction scene had been set.

Two tuxedoed attendants greeted them at the dock, by a delicate gazebo, and helped secure the boat.

"A tour of the house would have been enough William..."

"Remember... you were hungry earlier... at the beach."

He took her hand and escorted her to the table, soft wisps of music filling the air.

"Where are the musicians?'

"Why in the music chamber, just behind these French doors."

"You don't miss a detail Mr. Darcy."

"They're quite accustomed to holding receptions here... weddings... after hours - but yes, I take great pleasure in detail Miss Bennet."

"Is this your idea of courtship Mr. Darcy?"

"How does if rate in your opinion?"

"Are you still chasing my good opinion?'

He smiled. "So it seems..."

"Well... I shall just have to keep you in suspense then..."

Two Champagne flutes appeared, floating on a tray of silver. Raising his glass, William's eyes locked onto hers, bathing her in a look of ardent admiration, soft suffusing passion, and drawing her into a private space of intense headiness.

"She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies..."*

As Byron's words and his deep voice echoed before her, she melted into his gaze; speechless, swallowed by the deep intensity of his eyes, a foreign helplessness beginning to grow within her.

The purple dusk surrounding them evolved into an intense inky sky, stars shimmering above. Gazing upwards, she turned to him.

"I feel like Cassiopeia, rooted to my seat, afraid to move...this is so beautiful William."

He reached and stroked her chin with a gentle caress. "Cassiopeia was being punished , Elizabeth, by the Gods. I think the Gods are looking down on us in approval this evening..."

And so the evening drifted, delicacies barely tasted by the man and woman. Each, instead, savoring the sights, sounds and scents of the night, of each other. A mystical interlude to be indelibly imprinted in one's memories. William, the proud orchestrator, cherishing her every response. Elizabeth, the helpless recipient, acutely aware of the evolving seduction, unable and unwilling to stop its flow.

"Shall we dance?" He stood, placing a light kiss on her bared shoulder.

They waltzed - William leading the way - strong, commanding, - his cheek nuzzling her hair, arms gripping her in a powerful and possessive hold. Finally, gasping and breathless from the exertion, she begged for release from his hold.

"William... Please... I need to breathe."

And realization struck him. He must not hasten her tonight. "Let me show you the gardens."

Vizcaya's Gardens were a magnificent etude of Victorian elegance, heightened by tropical lushness. The pair meandered through paths and terraces, holding hands, Elizabeth's white dress gleaming in the moonlight.

"There's something I would like you to see..."

In a recessed corner, they came upon a tall circular hedge, tucked within it , a hidden entrance. She stepped in... inside sat a graceful ring shaped fountain, silver coins glistening at its base. Surrounding it, a thick carpet of green graced by a stone bench under a curving rose bower.

"William it's secret garden."

"Make a wish Elizabeth..." he whispered to her.

"But .. I have no coins..."

"You don't need an offering."

At that moment, a comprehension settled upon her, the very last veil of her reluctance, her fear, her control, was lifted and floated away into the night. Holding William in rapt attention, she lifted the hem of her dress and moved toward the fountain. Perching on its edge, she trailed in her hand, letting drops trickle from her fingers. Fastening her gaze on him , she paused, and with a graceful movement swung her legs in, submerging her body in the water. Then she rose again - Boticelli's Venus - White gauze transparent, molding every swell and curve. She stretched her arms out to him.

"I wish for you William."

Blood seething, heart pounding away ,he staggered over to the still, dripping, apparition and slowly began peeling away white layers, until she stood before him, a silvery nude goddess, offering herself to him.

Encircling her waist, he lifted her high in the air and gently deposited her on the soft green. Molding her slick flesh onto his turgid body, he began a hungry feast of her mouth, tongues tasting, slowly savoring one another. Hands tangled in masses of curls, he began a tender assault of her bare flesh - tugging, suckling each pink tipped swell, laving the tips with his insistent tongue, drinking in her divine essence.

Hands stroking down the lines of her waist, he settled on the undulating curve of her hips, caressing, supplicating... Hesitating momentarily, he bent his supple form and knelt in front of her.

"With my body , I thee worship ..."

He burrowed himself into her moist, dark, softness - hungry, greedy - tasting her nectar - plundering , prodding , possessing. Elizabeth was soaring... a tremulous flight punctuated by sharp electrical currents, building to a fierce storm. William plunged his tongue in an insistent , deep, masterful rhythm, desperately trying to appease his appetite, unable to get his fill, gripping her gyrating hips in a devastating grasp. The sparks coalesced , her body tensed... seized... surged... and crested in an intense explosion of pleasure waves washing over her in complete surrender.

"William..." she erupted hoarsely.

Never breaking his cadence, he feasted on her sweet effluvium, tongue riding every wave, over and over until she stilled , ravished and spent. Only then, did he dare look up, and melt her eyes with a look of sheer pure wonder. Without a word, he raised his sinewy form, tall and proud, and with excruciating slowness, unbuttoned his shirt. His broad chest glistened with fine droplets, his jaw tightened in effort to maintain control. A more seductive disrobing had not graced the gardens of Vizcaya for a century. Ripping her eyes from his gaze, she took in every startling detail of his powerful male promise.

He moved towards her and stood facing her trembling body - nipples grazing one another, breaths intermingling, his formidable sex pulsating against her curls. Hands spread on his chest, feeling the unforgiving flexing of his powerful muscles she traced a searing path to his swell down below. They stood facing each other, man and woman, suspended in taut anticipation.

In one swift motion, he pulled her on to the soft carpet of green. Bracing herself for the expected onslaught, she closed her eyes. Hovering above her he pleaded, beseeching,

"Elizabeth ...open your eyes.. .stay... with..me... my love." Her eyes opened in surprise . At that moment, William glided into her , controlled, commanding, an immense powerful filling presence. She was completely overwhelmed and implored pleadingly.

"Gentle... William... I..."

"Shhhh... "

He kissed her lips, thrusting his tongue in and out, his sex remaining still within her; reassuring, comforting, waiting for acceptance. And slowly she reprised her earlier undulating rhythm; sheathed within her he matched her cadence without withdrawing, deeply probing, until with a throbbing whisper she begged...

"Now please..."

He retreated and plunged in; a powerful, savage and complete thrust - one that stretched her and filled her, that had her arching, wildly gasping, nails clawing his back . Hungry, greedy, he possessed her so completely that every pore of her body was filled with him.

Then he rode her.

She gasped , writhing beneath him in an excruciating and infuriating rhythm. He was ruthless, relentlessly sweeping her away into a new reality; conquering, plundering, branding her as his very own. Gasping, heaving, Elizabeth felt herself transported beyond rapture, beyond concrete existence; boundaries shattering... finally collapsing... into a release of pure and ecstatic pleasure.

His eyes burning into her - he persisted with forceful thrusting , again and again, until she rose alongside... meeting a new peak... and shattered ... fractured fragments exploding in a fast and intense free fall.

Bodies torrid with heat, glistening with sweat, arched furiously toward one another; until William with a desperate groan, in that final steely moment, braced himself and erupted in a complete surge of ecstasy, and tumbled down from a wild flight of exquisite abandon.

"Oh! God! ...... Je t'aime..." And the resulting sun was a flash of pure glory, divine, unshielded , an orb of power so intense it fused his heart to hers.

Spent - he lay within her - his body cradling her shivering form, lulling her to stillness, powerful and soothing, possessing every molecule of her essence.

Two lovers in a secret garden...

Chapter Ten

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curved point - what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented?...

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Between The Sheets: Brandy, light rum, triple sec, and lemon juice.

Complete - he felt absolutely, undeniably and deliriously complete. When had it been so good? Never. This woman lying intertwined in his limbs, who was she? What power did she have, elevating her above all the other women he had lain with? Trailing his fingers over the alabaster curve of her hips, toying with her dark damp curls, he marveled at her mystery. She had accepted his every thrust , his raging need, stayed by his side during their wild and ecstatic ride. Yet he hardly knew her. He was in awe of her beauty, her allure, her touching sweet surrender. Yes, he had set out to seduce her tonight, but instead found himself the seduced, the one who truly, beyond doubt, surrendered.

He turned and tenderly stroked her temple, tracing a path to the throbbing base of her neck.

"You are truly magnificent, Elizabeth."

Lost in the limpid pools of his dark eyes, suffused with delicious sensations coursing through her body, she chose her next words with great care.

"William... there's something I haven't told you... I'm... well... this was... only my second time...being intimate and...well...the first time doesn't even compare... what I'm trying to say... is... I feel like you truly are my first... it was wonderful..."

His heart contracted painfully at her words, at her obvious uneasiness in sharing these astonishing details. How could I have been so blind? Her initial diffidence, which he had mistaken for coyness, had not been a game at all. Her gentle entreaties floated back to him. Yes, she had attempted to tell him through her actions, her looks , her reactions and he had chosen to ignore all the signals, intent on satisfying his greedy lust. A layer of guilt settled on his soul.

"Elizabeth, I should have known... I am so sorry...I didn't... hurt you... did I?"

She smiled at his tender enquiry, " No...I will be fine..."

A sigh of relief escaped his lips. All was right again. The brief interlude allowed shreds of reality to filter back in; the boat. He had completely forgotten about his boat! Docking at Vizcaya was prohibited after hours, they had to get back. Reluctantly, he raised himself upon his elbow and looked around for her garments. They lay floating in the fountain, a reminder of her earlier disrobing. Picking up his own shirt, he draped it carefully around her shoulders. While William dressed himself, Elizabeth cocooned into his woodsy scent, observing his fluid motions. Bare chested, muscles rippling, he leaned down and gathered her in his arms.

"Let me carry you back..."

Too weak and dazed to protest, she allowed him to retrace their steps back to the mooring. Vizcaya was dark and quiet, a dimmed theatre , its actors departed for the night.

"William," she whispered, "we missed the house tour."

He laughed out loud, voice echoing in the stillness of the night.

"Do you regret your turn about the gardens, my lady?"

She appeared to ponder the question for a few moments. "No, the turn was most .... refreshing..." and smiled up at him, strengthening her clasp around his neck, burrowing into his muskiness.

He carried her onto the boat, ignoring her feeble protests, and settled her body on his berth - covering her tenderly with a soft blanket.

'William I need to..."

"No, don't move... please." He replied firmly, possessively . Nestling into the welcome warmth of her blanket, she nodded in consent, the significance of his request not lost upon her.

"I want you this way..."

"Shhh.. I understand..."

William left her to rest, and anchored the boat away from the shore. Soon, the gentle roll of the surf lulled Elizabeth into a light sleep. She awoke to the butterfly flutter of eyelashes on her cheek, a flickering tongue over her lips. Mmmmmm...

"William I really need to ..."

"Not, yet...."

"As you wish, my lord..."

"Wench," he replied and renewed his assault on her lips.

With a new surge of energy coursing through her limbs, Elizabeth decided it was high time to change the balance of power. She straddled the flat planes of his abdomen and proceeded to disrobe him in a most languorous fashion; with her lips, her tongue, flitting fingers, driving him out of his wits.

"If my memory does not fail me Mr. Darcy, this was next..."

She traced a hot, scorching line of kisses from his clavicle, to taut nipples, down to the inside of his ankle.

Nibbling on the delicate bone, she murmured, " That... is your medial malleolus ... and it's yummy..."

He lay frozen, a willing slave to her ministrations. Finally, after a prolonged interlude , she retraced her steps, hovering above his turgid swell.

"My, oh, my..." she murmured, contemplating her strategy.

"Elizabeth... please... this is torture..."

What happened next sent William reeling into a spiraling series of shocking sensations. It was Elizabeth's turn to feast, to satiate herself and her deep desire on his most resplendent offering.

And so the night evolved, each pleasuring the other, melding together again and again. They finally collapsed, limbs tangled, lips bruised, muscles expended - a replete, messy, fusion of two egos stripped naked to their most primal and central cores.

She awoke to the wonderful smell of fresh coffee and bacon frying in the galley. Where does he get his stamina? She was utterly and completely exhausted, a limp mass of post-coital lethargy... and lying on a bed covered with the evidence of last night's passion... everywhere... Oh. My God! The man was insatiable! She could hear him whistling from the galley and suppressed a giggle. Tousled dark curls appeared in the doorway, followed by a rakish grin. Did all men behave this way the next morning? She pondered.

"William, you're stark naked."

"So are you my darling!" he bantered back, bringing in a tray loaded with coffee, muffins, fruits eggs and bacon.

"Hungry?"

"Famished... that's quite a spread captain... But we can't eat in here it's a mess." He looked at the crumpled sheets and grinned sheepishly.

"Remember that Darcy family motto, Carpe Diem..."

"You...!" She flung a pillow in his direction , nearly toppling the tray and waddled into the bathroom. She emerged a few minutes later wearing William's white terry robe. William smiled inwardly; he had dreamed of this moment often after their trip to Key West and now she was truly his, on his boat, in his robe. Life was good. They ate hungrily on the outdoor deck, basking in the new found intimacy of two young lovers.

"William, I almost forgot, what time is it?"

" Ten o'clock, in a hurry?"

" No... I would love to stay ... it's just that ... I have a .. business... lunch today..."

He gave her a searching look - then chose to let the matter drop.

"We still have a bit of time, let's finish up and I'll take you back to the marina. Can I see you tonight?"

Both knew it was her last evening on the Key, but neither dared to verbalize it. "Tonight then, come by the condo..."

Breakfast completed, he leaned over and kissed the tip of her nose.

"You know, I just thought of something, we could have had quintuplets... given how many times...." Elizabeth was momentarily taken aback. He's already talking of children! Slow down William. Then she realized his intended meaning and laughed heartily at the display of boyish playfulness.

"Obviously you didn't pay attention in Biology class William."

"Will you teach me Dr. Bennet?"

And indeed, a very brief but pleasurable lesson ensued in the guest quarters; William the rapt pupil, and Elizabeth, a most dedicated teacher.

I'm going to be late for this lunch!, She thought racing into the apartment- not stopping to greet Jane on the balcony - quickly stripping her somewhat tattered dress while striding into her bathroom - only to be greeted by the sight of ...a lanky male body, covered in downy blond hair, stark naked.

"Gaaah!!... Charles! What are you doing in my bathroom?" Charles gave her a shocked look, which quickly turned to one of appreciative surprise.

"Elizabeth!"

Realizing her own nakedness, she turned on her heels and fled back to her room, grabbing a sheet off the bed, seething and furious with Jane.

"Jane, how could you.. and so fast!... After only one game of tennis?"

Jane was momentarily befuddled, then grinned and raising her hand she halted Elizabeth in her tracks.

"Stop! It's platonic! The water main in his building was shut down for the day and he came to use the shower. Caroline and Charlotte went to the spa instead. You've obviously seen more of him than I have honey!"

Charles peeked out behind the corner with a sheepish grin on his face, and a towel wrapped around his waist. "Am I going to get in trouble for this? I've already taken a beating at tennis from Jane last night."

Lizzie turned to him apologetically, " She beat you pretty badly, did she? Well I guess that's punishment enough, Charles."

He gathered his belongings, dressed hurriedly, and strolled out the door. "See you for dinner Jane... Bye Lizzie and sorry again." Unable to resist he added, "Boy, Darcy sure is a lucky guy!" and bolted out the door. She gritted her teeth at his comment , slamming the door behind him and turned to find Jane rolling on the couch, clutching a pillow , tears of laughter in her eyes. "This is too funny, Lizzie!"

"Look Jane, I've got to run - Wickham's waiting for me at the Delano - I'll explain everything later."

"Just one question Lizzie... Charles... you know...Is he BUILT?..."

Lizzie threw her an exasperated look and rushed out of the apartment.

~ * ~

The harsher light of day stripped the magical patina which the Delano harbored at night, however, it amplified the hotel's chic and sophisticated ambiance. Elizabeth had purposefully chosen a conservative, high necked pale blue linen dress. She wore no makeup, her hair tied in a simple pony tail. She wanted to send a clear message to Wickham; she meant business. However, as usual,, she completely underestimated her appeal to the opposite sex. To Wickham, seated in the rear lobby observing her entrance, she looked natural, fresh, and splendid.

"Elizabeth... you are positively glowing today..."

He stood up and attempted a kiss on her lips, instead she turned her head - Wickham had to settle for an earlobe.

"George."

"Shall we proceed to lunch, gorgeous?"

To the scattered lobby guests, all avid people watchers, the duo was a striking pair. George Wickham , a true fashion connoisseur and clotheshorse , prided himself on his toned physique, deliberately choosing clothing to accentuate his attributes. Outfitted in a Navy Armani blazer, gray slacks and a tight white jersey, he looked suave and elegant. Sporting short cropped jet black hair, piercing blue eyes and startlingly long eyelashes- he exuded panther like sensuality; it was there in his walk, the thrust of his pelvis, the swing of his narrow hips. He knew it, used it, and delighted in its potency. Elizabeth was only too aware of his calculated machinations, yet she registered , albeit in a distant manner, George's overt sexuality.

Settling herself at the table, she eyed him icily and began.

"George, let's cut to the chase. Why did you need to see me in person for this?"

"Whoa, Liz, slow down - let me give you some background first.'

"I just want the facts, George," she rebutted.

"Fine, have it your way. Darcy and I had been friends, I also sort of dated his sister Georgie.."

Elizabeth's head snapped up. "Darcy has a sister?" she asked, incredulous at the news.

"She's ten years younger than him , lovely gal... anyhow - last winter - we were skiing in Gstaad , the three of us..."

Here, his tone changed, becoming infused with pain. " What I am about to tell you is to remain between us Liz."

She sat up, all attention, a cold trickle of sweat running down her back. Wickham had never spoken to her in that tone, she had not known him capable of feeling such pain.

He continued. "One morning we skied out to a secluded set of trails - we were all advanced skiers, we had done this many times. Well, there was a terrible accident..." His voice trembled.

"There was an avalanche... Georgie and I were buried under four feet of snow. It was horrific, I was sure we would die. William was lucky - but instead of staying and digging us out - he left us behind." The last words were laced with bitterness and anger.

"What do you mean he left you? Surely he tried to help?" She whispered, incredulous and suddenly very afraid of his next words.

"He left us behind. I had to dig Georgie out and somehow we made it back down the mountain. I was pretty shaken, but Georgie - well, she never got over it. She's needed special help, actually it's that post-traumatic stuff you do your research in. You see, he abandoned her and I. He had no intention of coming back with help. He got frightened - and he ran. William Darcy is a coward Liz. He'll use you and then when he's done he'll discard you, abandon you , just like he did Georgie and I..."

Her mind reeling, Elizabeth felt a wave of sudden nausea sweep over her. This could not be true! Hoarsely, she whispered.

"You're lying, I don't believe you."

"Fine, have it your way. The lawsuit, you know, could have been settled out of court. He has a personal vendetta against me, and therefore, Meryton. He wants to destroy me, Why? Because I know his dirty little secret, he's the worst kind of human being, beneath his veneer of bravura lies the heart of a selfish coward."

"What about his sister?.."

"She's in England - at University - she's struggling while he wiles his time away on the yacht and milks your family's company for a million bucks. Now do you understand?"

No, she did not understand at all. None of this made any sense. She could not reconcile Wickham's words with the person she had begun to know . Her logical side hurled through series of analytical leaps, and began methodically rejecting Wickham's facts. Yet there was something about his tone that rang true - and a seed of doubt entrenched its ugly roots into her consciousness.

"Is that all you have to say to me?"

"No, there's more. I have strong suspicions that the two of you may be more than acquaintances..." She blushed. "If that's the case honey, your dad will be very displeased. William's reputation in the industry is legendary; he's the high-flying womanizer. Don't look so shocked Liz. I should know, we played the game together, and believe me he's a master! Let me guess - music, wining and dining - at Oxford, he was famous for quoting Byron and Keats, and we must not forget those French endearments."

As each word registered in her brain - she felt a door slam shut within her - its clamor reverberating in the chambers of her heart. Where there had been trust and warmth - was now replaced by a dull, cold and gray void. How could she have been such a fool? He had played with her, toyed with her, and created a false pretense, a fantasy world into which she had been drawn surely and seductively. At that moment, Elizabeth began a rapid descent into a new reality of pain ; a shattering and complete devastation.

Wickham watched her closely, noting the spectrum of emotions mirrored in her face. He had gotten through to her...Good. Yet an unresolved issued nagged and tugged at him

'Liz, I need to know... You didn't sleep with him , did you?"

The sheer look of consternation in her eyes answered him louder and clearer than any words. Wickham recoiled, as if dealt a physical blow.

"It's none of your business, George!" she retorted furiously.

"Aah, but it is my dear. He's a dangerous man; proud, calculating and ruthless. I'm warning you Liz, stay away from him, he will hurt you , of that I can be sure."

"How dare you speak to me this way, I don't need your protection and empty veiled threats. You mean nothing to me George. What little we had is long gone, do you understand?" She lashed out raising her voice.

Shaking in anger and a sinking sense of defeat, he plunged one last dagger into her shattered awareness.

"So was he any good ... honey...? Did he manage to bring down those carefully erected walls of yours? Did he make you scream and beg for more? Was it worth it , baby?..."

Elizabeth had crossed her breaking point. She stood up jerkily , scraping her chair on the floor and looked him straight in the eye.

"If you must know George, you can't hold a candle to him, you never will. At best, you're a mediocre lover. At worst, you are a pathetic excuse for a man. I want nothing further to do with you. Don't call me, don't attempt to reach me, and leave me the hell alone!" She stormed out of the hotel, a blur of blue linen and dark curls amidst the stark white landscape.

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