Elizabeth had expected to solve the whole mystery regarding Anne Darcy and Wickham the very same day she returned to England. However, there were too many people who had a claim on her attention, and she was not moving as fast as she would have liked with that story. She was not complaining though; despite her need to find answers to her questions, it was the human contact and the affection she derived from it that gave real sense to her life now.
She spent a whole day, the second one after her return to England, with Jane. They had talked for hours, sharing everything with each other. The only thing that could alleviate Elizabeth’s guilt for keeping so many secrets from Jane for such a long time and for leaving with hardly any explanation was the fact that her elder sister’s mood seemed considerably improved. Elizabeth was more than surprised to see that Charles was trying hard to be on good terms with Jane again, but even she could notice the change in him. He was considerate and discreet, hardly flirting at all. If she was not privy to their history, she could have sworn that he was nothing more than a good friend who did not wish for more tender feelings to develop. The flirting air had abandoned him completely, but he lost none of his pleasant manner and spontaneity. Elizabeth could not say if the change was permanent. Her sister had witnessed this altered behavior for less than a week, but was pleased all the same. Since no one was in a rush, and everyone seemed happy, Elizabeth felt happy as well.
Besides, she had a more daunting task before her: To prepare the meeting between her father and Jane. She knew that her sister was generous and forgiving, but she was afraid Paul Bennet’s slight of her had been rather serious and many would have considered it unpardonable. After so many years of absence, he had invited only one of his daughters to his home, his land, his universe. Even Elizabeth, who had heard his self contrition and apology, was not certain if she had forgiven him completely; or if he could take back his place in her heart; a place, a pedestal that her own insecurities had put him on. But this was not about her. She knew that she loved her father, even though she didn’t admire him as before. Jane, on the other hand, had to make her own decision. She was entitled to be unforgiving; and Elizabeth had the duty to accept her decision.
But Jane could not possibly feel anything akin to resentment now. After years of suppressing her feelings, of keeping everything to herself, of living in a foreign country without having anyone around that really cared for her, she was finally allowing her heart to guide her - without any restraint, without trying to silence it all the time. She had decided not to burden it anymore with lies and self-deceit, and her heart flourished in the freedom. It blossomed. It became almost incapable of harboring any ill feelings. The people not treating her with the respect she wanted, she ignored. She now welcomed affection and was ready to respond to it. For the first time in years she was balanced, and content, and she was doing what she wanted in her life. She could afford to be kind and forgiving.
So, the great meeting was far less daunting than Elizabeth had expected. Of course, Jane did not throw herself in her father’s arms as if nothing had happened, but she received him with a bright, genuine smile on her face and full of determination to listen to what he had to say. Paul, Teresa, Jane and Elizabeth had dinner and immediately after Teresa and Elizabeth left the other two alone for the whole night. It seemed to do the father and daughter good, and a foundation for a healthy relationship between the two was built that evening.
Elizabeth and Teresa had a very good time themselves. And surprisingly, neither Anne nor William Darcy was mentioned by either that evening. They were talking about Paul’s changed demeanor and gallantry towards Teresa. Elizabeth was surprised to find she had to ease the other woman’s fears and insecurities and to convince her that dating her father, after years of partnership and friendship – and hidden love of course—was a very good idea. Elizabeth’s persuasive skills seemed to work, and the following day Teresa and Paul began going out together, only the two of them, exploring all the romantic places his daughters had suggested, and they both stopped talking about their ‘friendship.’
Things were going well. So well that Elizabeth would not be surprised to find herself dining together with Paul, Teresa, Fanny and William Lucas one day soon. So, when Jane suggested that it would be a good idea, she only shrugged her shoulders and asked her to delay it a bit. She was not afraid of her father and all the painful memories that such a meeting could evoke. What she feared the most was her mother’s reaction. Even though Fanny seemed content with her life and decisions, Elizabeth had the slight suspicion that seeing the ex-husband she had abandoned—probably secretly hoping that he would pine for her forever—so full of love and admiration for another obviously wonderful woman would be a strong blow for Fanny’s infamously sensitive nerves.
But even Fanny had changed. First of all, she had not complained about her daughters’ being single more than four times in the week that followed Elizabeth’s return. And when she did complain, she didn’t repeat her usual speech about ‘every woman needing a man to take care after her’ but rather a lecture pointing out that ‘every woman must become a mother.’ At first Elizabeth thought that someone had informed Fanny about her relationship with the great William Darcy and her mother was dropping hints to hurry up the wedding. However, Jane knew exactly what had happened and enlightened her sister.
“From the moment she heard that Charlotte has left Bill Collins and decided to raise the child on her own, our mother has gone through a metamorphosis. We thought that she would react in an even worse way than at the marriage announcement—which was pretty bad. Remember those vases that William brought from China? Well, forget them—but suddenly Fanny was filled with affection for her ‘courageous daughter.’ She is anticipating her ‘grandchild’s’ arrival with more excitement than Charlotte, buying clothes, and toys, and thinking about the college we must enroll the boy in—for she has decided that the baby will be a boy, of course. And the funniest part was when she protected Charlotte from Bill Collins’ attempts to reconcile. She called him a conceited toad and said the child will be much better off without his tedious presence and perverse thinking and actions.”
Elizabeth was impressed by her mother, and for the first time in her life she recognized similarities between them. She had to admit that Fanny’s words regarding Bill Collins exactly reflected her own thoughts. If this had been her mother’s opinion from the beginning, why did she want to impose the toad on her daughters? And what had made her so happy about Charlotte’s leaving him? Had her opinion changed, had her views altered or was she only wickedly happy that Charlotte would not marry before her daughters? Was it possible that her mother could think a bit more seriously and hide her true sentiments from them all? And what exactly were those sentiments? Could there be vulnerability and insecurity and perhaps tenderness in Fanny Lucas? What was she doing with it all these years? Despite her absolute confidence in the opposite, it occurred to Elizabeth that a serious conversation with her mother was a possibility. She had to investigate the subject further.
However, this was not her first priority, William was. It was true that they were back together, that they had finally admitted their feelings and that she was falling more in love with him each day that passed; but she could sense that the story regarding his mother had upset him. She had felt it from the moment that she had first talked to him about the case; the very morning of her return to England, her return to him, eight days ago. She had chosen to be honest instead of retaining the fairy-tale atmosphere of their reconciliation for long. Her conscience dictated it, even if her feelings pleaded for her to return home with him and stay there forever, leaving everything else behind.
When she first told him about his mother and her actions in South America, sharing with him everything she had learnt about Anne Darcy’s life there before her tragic and mysterious death in Africa, taking pains to emphasize on the importance of her task there, William had listened carefully. He didn’t interrupt her, he didn’t lose his temper, he didn’t seem angry. In the end he only said:
“As a person, I admire her, Elizabeth. As a human, she deserves all the praise one can bestow on her. But as a mother, Elizabeth…” A sad smile showed resignation, “I can’t forgive her. I know it’s selfish, but I just can’t .”
Although he tried to hide it from her, shadows darkened his face, and when he thought that she was not looking at him, she would catch a glimpse of a very pained expression on his face. It tore her heart to see him suffering without her being able to help, and it filled her with determination to find out exactly what happened with his family and the Wickhams. She wanted all the haunting images from the past to disappear once and for all.
Elizabeth also talked about her suspicions regarding the untold story of Anne Darcy’s hasty departure. The time that William had to stop deluding himself had come. He understood that there was no room left for selfishness; for a child’s hurt feelings; for his regret over the Christmas days that he had spent alone; for the yearning that was so deeply rooted in him that he could not remember a moment of perfect wholeness in his life. This was not a family story that mattered only to him. It stopped being a matter of forgiveness; it became a matter of desperate need to find out the whole truth; to find out if he had spent his life in lies. To realize that even he could be called a victim, he was not the only one; and certainly not the one who had suffered the most. It was not a story of selfishness or greed, but rather of duty and conscience. He felt both his parents had failed the rest of the world by acting the way they did. They had let someone cause pain and death or even supported him in doing that. And William Darcy was not sure if he had the power to forgive; if he was entitled to forgive. Elizabeth was certain that the truth would help him, but she feared that the blow that would precede reconciliation with the past would be too strong, even for him.
Everything was seen under a new light to him now. He remembered the note his mother had left to his father and repeated its contents to Elizabeth:
It’s all about money and power isn’t it? I have forgiven you, please try to forgive me. Take care of our angels. Tell them how much I love them. Don’t destroy my little ‘Meryton’ land. I love you too, George, and I always will. But I can’t go on living by your side.
It struck them both that George Darcy might have been as guilty as John and George Wickham. He certainly was a part of the awful case that they were trying to unveil. The horrible suspicion had shaken Will, even if he didn’t care to admit it. The other note, that indicated Wickham blackmailing Darcy, did very little to palliate his distress.
Stop your wife before it’s too late. For all of you. You know me too well, George. I don’t forgive mistakes.
Elizabeth chewed the edge of her pencil, trying to figure out what she knew and what she didn’t know. A whole week had passed since her return and it was time for some answers.
In essence, despite the discouraging lack of proof, she knew almost all of the story. Twenty-two years ago, wealthy businessman John Wickham proposed and financed a brand new program for the Ministry of Education. It was called ‘Security in Public Schools’ and its aim was to reduce juvenile criminality. Wickham had volunteered some of his own men, whom he would continue to pay himself, to be the future guards in schools of certain districts. The Ministry accepted with gratitude, and Wickham boasted of finally solving a huge social problem. The reports to the Ministry were all in his favor, but in truth, the situation had declined tremendously. The number of underage drug users doubled in a short period. Cases of AIDS were reported and crime increased. However, the police reports mysteriously disappeared each time someone felt like investigating the matter further. It was obvious that Wickham’s men were well connected and served their purpose very well: they managed to find a stable base for his drug-dealing activities, the secret behind his success, to the new market of children.
Only someone with a ‘name’ and certain power could reveal anything. Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy had them both. Despite the long-standing friendship between her husband and John Wickham, she never trusted the latter and immediately suspected what was hiding behind his wealth and what he was attempting by financing that program. Obviously she discovered everything and was ready to reveal it to the police and to her readers. But her husband stopped her and she left. She had gone to South America to fight what she could not fight in her homeland.
The haunting question had intruded. Why had George Darcy not let his wife reveal the whole story? The program was still in force to this day, and children continued to suffer and die because of it. It was appalling to think that someone knew it and had the power to stop it but didn’t. Even Anne Darcy, whose courage everyone had looked up to, had chosen the coward’s way: she had left. But what had George Darcy done? At the very best, he knew but remained silent. At the very worst, he was participating in those activities. Anne Darcy’s note seemed to imply the second theory, but the note Elizabeth had discovered pointed at the first.
She shook her head, trying to dismiss every dark thought, even if only for a minute. She and William were together; they had found each other; they were sharing a relationship that every day was touching a new, deeper chord in her heart. She knew that he really meant what he had said the day of their reconciliation, making her feel that she had finally found her home: “I never, ever want to be parted from you again.”
Elizabeth felt a pinch of guilt. That day could have been perfect, like a romantic movie, with them uttering vows of eternal devotion, repeating how much they loved each other, kissing each other in the way that made their hearts fly, and making love to each other until they had conquered the last molecule of each other’s body.
But reality had to intervene and less pleasant subjects had intruded, spoiling the perfect retrospective. Even if they didn’t have the slightest impact on William’s affection for her or on his decision to become the man Elizabeth deserved, they did influence his peace of mind. And they caused Elizabeth to become ungenerous and resentful, if only in thought. ‘Why can’t we ever be happy and peaceful and…just the two of us? Without all these ghosts, without all these fears lying between us. Normal…’
Elizabeth was brought back from her musings by the ring of her phone. She forced herself to dismiss her troubling thoughts and met Jane’s cheerful tone of conversation, as they talked about the lovely time they had the evening before. Jane had invited Paul, Teresa and Elizabeth to dinner again, but this time she warned her father that she wanted to introduce a good friend to him. It was none other than Charles Bingley.
“Dad seemed quite taken by Charles,” Elizabeth offered pleasantly, as it was her conviction that Charles deserved a second chance. “He even ignored Teresa a bit for the sake of talking to him.”
“He is lucky to have met only Charles’ changed self. He’s spared the trouble of doubting,” Jane said, trying to make it sound as a humorous remark, but not quite succeeding.
Elizabeth turned serious. “How exactly are things going between you two?”
“I am not sure, Lizzy.” Jane sighed. “The problem lies with me, not him. We meet at least once every three days, and not only by his initiative. We always have a great time. He’s not pushing me at all… No hints, nothing. And it would have been fine, had I not realized that I was not pleased by this fact.”
“Not pleased by the fact that he’s a gentleman?” Elizabeth was astonished. Her sister was not in the habit of making such absurd confessions.
“Not pleased with the fact that he will never dare to become anything more than a friend, Lizzy. He has put me on such a high pedestal, as if I am the perfect woman that no one dares approach. I do not want that.”
“You do not want that.” It was a statement, not a question.
“No, I don’t.”
“I see,” Elizabeth said quietly. After a short pause, she continued with a soft voice, “My dearest Jane, it’s time to admit that you have fallen in love with Charles Bingley.”
“And how would this help?” Jane sounded amazingly stubborn, but Elizabeth was amused.
“It works wonders, Jane. Everything becomes clearer once you have uttered the magical words. I am speaking from experience.”
“Alright. Maybe you are correct. I have come to love him, Lizzy.” She sighed again. “Somewhere in Scotland I think. I thought he had killed everything when he came to humiliate me in my own house. But he had not. I knew it from the moment I saw him crying in William’s house, even though I didn’t care to admit it.”
“Good. You can always make the first step, you know. Show him that you are not indifferent. It can’t be that difficult if you meet so often.”
“The thing is, Lizzy…” Jane started hesitatingly.
“I do not believe that people can change.”
“Oh,” was the only that Elizabeth could say.
“I am afraid that this gallant, kind Charles won’t last forever. I know I had decided to let my heart speak, but I don’t want to be hurt again.”
Elizabeth remained silent.
“Anyway, let’s leave this for now. How did you like the dessert?”
“You know that I adore anything that your magic hands make, Janie. I am glad Will could not make it yesterday. The comparison between our cooking would be inevitable and not at all to my advantage.”
Jane chuckled. “So this is why you refused to take a piece or two back home… Seriously now, Lizzy, I was sorry he couldn’t come. I really like your boyfriend, despite my accidentally punching him.”
Elizabeth laughed, trying to imagine the scene that had taken place in her absence.
“I hope the business that detained him was nothing serious. It was Sunday night and usually…”Elizabeth tried to hide the nervousness in her voice as well as she could.“It’s… I mean… Now it’s ok. It was urgent, but now he has settled everything.”
Elizabeth felt a bit guilty at hiding the whole truth from her sister, but she was certain that it would have been awkward to inform her that William had gone in search of Jason. They had decided that whatever information they could gather would be precious, and that they had not the luxury of showing to Younge the contempt he deserved. So, Will decided to have a talk with him. However, Jason had disappeared and there was no way William or his men could trace him. Even his parents had no idea where he had gone, but after the scandal they deemed it only natural that he wanted to escape their wrath. The previous night, William thought he had found him at last, but after midnight he called Elizabeth to let her know his last attempt was fruitless as well.
Fortunately, Jane did not pay much attention to Elizabeth’s almost incoherent mumbling, since she was meditating on something else.
“Lizzy, I do not want to cloud your happiness in any way, but may I ask you a question, please? It’s important.”
“Of course.” Elizabeth was really curious as to what would follow.
“You said that William is very changed from the moment you returned. You present him almost as a different man.”
“This is not true,” Elizabeth stated firmly, understanding her sister’s meaning and realizing at last that there was a way to help her with the dilemma she was facing. “William remains the man I fell in love with. He may be a little more open and able to say that he loves me, but none of his ideas, values, or beliefs has changed. He always had deep feelings, a great and brilliant mind and…” she said chuckling, “a great many flaws that I used to forgive and I continue to do so. In essentials, Jane,” She paused to emphasize the last phrase, “he is the man that he always was.”
“In essentials…” Jane said, struck by the realization.
“Exactly. In essentials. The question is, Jane, what do you know about Charles’ ‘essentials’ and how much you like them? If you fall in love with the ‘essentials’ you can forgive his imperfections, which are bound to be plentiful and insufferable!” Elizabeth finished the sentence chuckling.
“That was helpful, you know.” Jane’s voice was happier now. “I believe that William Darcy does you loads of good.”
“Very astute observation, big sis,” Elizabeth said and they both laughed.
Elizabeth had felt his eyes on her before looking up. When she lifted her face and saw him gazing at her, with the tenderness that always spoke to her heart, and a yearning that always made her limbs go weak, she became distracted and knew not what she was talking about with Jane on the phone. She terminated the conversation as soon as she could, and turned her attention to him. She wished she could jump into his embrace, and the saucy look she sent his way left him in no doubt of that, but she decided to remain in her seat. It was true that they were not hiding their relationship anymore, but neither would like public displays of affection in Meryton’s offices, so full of people with a tendency for gossiping. However, this didn’t stop him from visiting her at her office as often as he could. Since their wonderful reconciliation they had real trouble staying away from each other for long—and ‘long’ was no more than a few hours.
She remained seated, drinking in the charming sight he presented. It was evident that he had just come from his own office, now several blocks away, in Pemberley.Net’s central buildings. He wore a dark blue suit that looked perfect on him and he had loosed his tie, making him look less formal and rather playful. No signs of fatigue or lack of sleep were evident on his face, although Elizabeth knew for sure that his night had been neither easy nor marked by any progress that satisfied him. However, his smile made her feel that she alone could bring him all the happiness he needed. She reveled in the feeling, knowing only too well that it was mutual.
“To what do I owe the honor, Mr. Darcy?” she asked lifting her eyebrows, producing a devastating grin on his face.
“I came to offer lunch to my favorite employee. Have you seen her today?” he answered leaning towards her.
She entwined her fingers to focus her mind on something else in order to break the spell he was casting on her, and to resist to the urge to kiss him soundly till she could not breathe. William watched her blushing and averting her eyes, glad that he was not the only one that had trouble keeping a tolerably neutral face while they were together in public. He had disdained the love-struck looks he had witnessed when he was very young, but had discovered at thirty-four the charm of these aspects of a happy relationship. As he admired Elizabeth’s flushed face and eyes which sparkled even more than usual, he had not the slightest restraint in declaring that he had been a fool in his fears and insecurities, even though he was not completely released yet.
Their eyes locked, and they drew instinctively closer to each other, while Elizabeth whispered, “Will, if you continue like this, I am going to kiss you right in front of everyone.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” he said, surprised to realize that he meant his words, “as long as you have lunch with me. I haven’t seen you all weekend, Elizabeth… I’ve become unused to staying away from you for so long.” He finished, and left Elizabeth wondering if he was serious or speaking in jest.
“I wouldn’t want to compromise you in front of your staff,” Elizabeth said and playfully avoided his mouth as his lips was reaching hers. He feigned a look of exasperation and they walked out of the office hand in hand. If their point was not to feed the gossip, they failed miserably. There was nothing else anyone was talking about in the office for the next several hours. However, the comments concentrated more on how well they looked together rather than on malicious speculations on the motives that induced Elizabeth Bennet to date William Darcy. After all, the latter was so handsome; any woman would have died to be his date, even if he were penniless.
They picked a quiet place they both loved and enjoyed their meal, talking about trifling things, at first not daring to approach the subject of Jason Younge. They had such a lovely time that Elizabeth felt the urge to avoid that discussion completely, it would darken his mood, and it really pained her to witness the subtle sadness casting shadows in his eyes. But Elizabeth Bennet was not a woman who would prefer the temporary relief as opposed to the long term cure. She didn’t want William’s restrained smiles; she wanted more because she knew that he deserved more. So, looking directly into his eyes, she said softly:
“What happened yesterday, Will?”
The turn in his countenance was immediate and it was like daggers in Elizabeth’s chest. But he didn’t avert his eyes. He wasn’t seeking to hide his distress from her anymore; this gave her hope, and strength. She reached for his hand and took it into hers, caressing it tenderly, as he was speaking.
“Nothing happened, Elizabeth. Hopes that turned into nothing. I can’t imagine where Younge has gone. My men thought that they had found him in New York. I spent the whole night talking to his friend there. He hasn’t contacted anyone. He has disappeared. Completely. I am worried, Elizabeth. It’s not like him.”
She looked at him enquiringly and he explained.
“Younge is not the kind of man who would drop into obscurity. All his life he has tried to make friends with the people that could be useful to him. I have asked everyone he would have liked to befriend. It all came to nothing.” He paused, unwilling to continue. But Elizabeth should hear this. It was important. “I never imagined that I would say this, but I fear for him.”
“What?” Elizabeth gave a start and dropped his hand. He tried to smile as reassuringly as he could, taking now her hand into his and caressing it soothingly, as she had done only moments ago.
“I think that someone heard him when he offered to say the truth and…” He didn’t dare to continue.
“Oh, my God!” Elizabeth’s free hand flew to her mouth in shock. She had heard many stories of blackmailing and revenge in her profession, she had even written articles about them, but it was a wholly different thing when they concerned people whom she knew so well. “You think that Wickham had him killed?”
“It wouldn’t have been the first time.” William answered bitterly and squeezed her hand so much that the muscles of her face convulsed. “Oh, my God, what have I done? I’m so sorry darling.” He was almost in shock for the pain he had caused her.
“It’s nothing, I am fine, really.” Elizabeth’s voice was soothing but didn’t help him relax at all. His own self had begun to frighten him. He had let so many emotions free in the last few weeks; he found that occasionally he could not control his reactions.
Where his love for Elizabeth was concerned, he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. He relished abandoning himself in the sea of feelings and emotions that her mere presence produced. And by his love for her, he began to forgive himself. Elizabeth brought to the surface everything that was good about him, even if it had been hiding in the depths of him. Seeing himself through her eyes, he started to appreciate what Elizabeth loved in him. The feeling was liberating, and warming. His cynicism was melting slowly. There would always remain large amounts of it, he didn’t doubt that. But at least he wouldn’t suffer from it. And he wouldn’t make anyone around him suffer either.
But when his past and its secrets returned to haunt him, the fact that he could not restrain his anger and bitterness any longer really frightened him. There were so many questions still unanswered. Answers were evading them. They could get only glimpses of the truth. Sometimes he felt as if they were chasing a chimera, or a monster that would always disappear in the corner letting them know only how horrible it was. It was like the dark figures that haunted his imagination and dreams, rendering his childhood a fairy tale in which villains prevailed and won. He had hardened his heart, closed it, stopped listening to it only to protect it from these fears. He had scorned so that he would stop shaking from fear. He had been cruel in order not to be weak. But now he was vulnerable, and he had no idea how he would react when the monsters of the past would revisit and confront him for one last time. It was inevitable, and he knew it.
He lifted his eyes and saw Elizabeth smiling at him. Courage poured into his heart, continuing its constant struggle with the hidden fears that had occupied it for so long. But it could not work its magic, for William had realized that the more he had come to love Elizabeth, the more fragile she appeared to him. She seemed too perfect to live in a world full of malice and dangers. Sometimes, he would look at her, striving to suppress the urge to take her in his arms and never let her go. To protect her from everyone who did not love her as much as he did. To protect her from his own overwhelming feelings when they threatened to devour them both.
But he couldn’t do it, because Elizabeth was a free woman, an independent spirit, ever strong in her fragility. He had learnt that he could not confine her, or set limits on her, or ask her to follow patterns and play roles. He couldn’t ask her to do anything like that; he didn’t want to. He was there for her, whenever she wanted him to be. William would despise himself if he killed what he loved in her. So, instead of begging to forget everything, to leave everything to him, to stop searching, and to stay as far away from this nightmare before it was too late, he only said in a barely audible whisper,
“We may be in danger, Elizabeth.”
She didn’t startle, she didn’t make the slightest move, she only continued to look deeply into his eyes, their hands entwined. After some minutes that seemed like forever, she simply stated, in a quiet, calm low voice,
“Wickham will be after us.”
“He has power, Elizabeth. You know that. So much, that my father couldn’t protect his family from it.”
“We don’t know what happened, Will.” Elizabeth was not sure what would have been more desirable: George Darcy not willing or George Darcy not able to confront Wickham? She knew that William didn’t want to think ill of his father. But the idea of the great Darcy family succumbing to all blackmailing of the Wickhams was chilling as it was strange.
“No, we don’t,” he agreed and seemed unwilling to continue on the subject. Elizabeth insisted.
“If we could make Wickham talk… To admit…” She looked at him earnestly, trying to give him some hope.
“That would answer many questions,” he stated in a colorless voice, not helping Elizabeth to understand if the fear of or the will to find the truth prevailed.
“We need proof, Will.” The smile faded off her face, as all the fruitless efforts of the week came into her mind. “But I am getting desperate here. No one speaks. No one helps. Whenever I ask for a file, it magically disappears. The man has built the perfect cover up!”
William couldn’t bear the look of disappointment in Elizabeth’s eyes. He smiled lightly, as he continued to rub her hand tenderly.
“To own the truth, Elizabeth, I have hired private investigators. They follow his every step, checking all his activities.” She startled and frowned for a moment. She didn’t like it when he took initiatives without asking her. But she nodded, acknowledging that this was as much his case as it was hers. He noted the change in her countenance and smiled apologetically.
“I hate it that we are entangled in this. And I fear for you. More than anything.”
Elizabeth understood and was touched by his concern. How could she be angry with him, when her own heart dreaded the prospect of seeing him harmed in any way? It was easier to have confidence in their strength than to bear the prospect of seeing the other hurt. Their love was uniting them so irrevocably, that each preferred to suffer than watching the other in pain.
Her voice came soft, soothing.
“Don’t be. I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. Your detectives will find out everything and we’ll send Wickham to jail once and for all. Even if he bribes every policeman or judge in the country, he won’t get away with it.”
They had finished their lunch and paid the bill. As she was speaking, they stood up and headed for the exit. His arm slipped around her waist in an intimate embrace. And it didn’t leave its place until they had reached Meryton’s offices. They didn’t speak about that subject on their way back, but chose less painful topics, that brought smiles and caused chuckles in both. The afternoon sun lit their faces, rendering them almost carefree, almost happy… They didn’t want to part; they didn’t want to go back to daily routine. They wanted to prolong the magic that flowed between them as long as they could. So, they just stayed there, for long moments gazing into each other’s eyes. And then, while Elizabeth was striving very hard to utter something close to goodbye, William unexpectedly took her face into his comforting, warm palms. Gratified and amused to witness the astonishment in her eyes, he pulled her closer to him steadily, until her brow reached his lips and she closed her eyes.
Elizabeth felt enveloped in tenderness, in soft care, in pure love that was pouring from his heart, and traveled from his lips to her face, her skin, her mind; that invaded her veins, spreading to her very core. This silent contact communicated exquisite feelings, making the love within and around them almost visible, palpable, audible; like the quiet murmurings of a river that existed and flowed for them alone. Cars were passing in the street, horns were screaming, people were walking, or running with content, sad, furious or simply absent-minded faces. The world was there, but they seemed to have soared to a universe where no one else existed. Elizabeth forgot all about time, about her job, and about her colleagues who, in all probability, were staring at them from the windows. She could only feel his lips, their softness, their sweetness as they kissed their path along her brow, her nose, her cheeks, to be joined at the end of their journey with her own lips that were waiting, aching for him. And then, all she knew was how good he tasted. He had the flavor of the sea, the rough, stormy sea, ready to conquer everything in its passing. And she traveled along with him, through the magnificent waves of his passion, crushed and sheltered at the same time.
Minutes later, which could have been hours, his mouth assaulted and playfully teased her jaw, to return after a few seconds to her cheeks. His lips pressed against the spot next to her ear. He exhaled deeply, and his warm breath caressed her ear, filling it with unsung melodies. His mouth formed the words “I love you,” pressing against her cheek, not the tiniest sound escaping from him. His velvet lips moved intensely, but slowly, making each letter a distinctive caress, a unique experience marked on her face. He nipped and softly bit, drying and then dampening her sweet skin, writing his profession on her, leaving a burning sign of him which would stay on her forever.
“It will be a lonely afternoon without you,” he whispered to her, when their bodies agreed to pull back.
They gazed at each other for several long moments. A smile curved his lips, as he took in the wonderful sight of her and turned to leave.
Elizabeth’s fingers rested upon her cheek and they could not leave that spot until he was gone from her sight.
William Darcy and Charles Bingley had a habit of meeting on Friday afternoons. They had their coffee in either’s home, talking about their week and relaxing in each other’s company. When Richard was hosted in Darcy’s house, he joined them as well and he was the source of naughty remarks and merriment. On this particular Friday however, it was Charles that was flying in the skies, while William watched him amused and Richard looked at him with a sullen face.
“She wants me, I am sure she does!” was Charles’ mantra, which had been repeated at least ten times in the past hour. He went on with his story that the other two had naturally learnt by heart. They had realized however that no pleading from their part could save them from a repetition of it. “I was sure that the desire came only from my own part, but yesterday as I was leaning to show her the cover of the book, she looked at me in this way…and she came closer, she moved her head, not I, and she licked her lips!” he cried in absolute elation. “I am positively sure that she licked her lips!”
Richard shook his head, while William was trying to suppress his chuckles.
“I wanted to make love to her, that very moment, right there on my desk, until she was as lost as I was,” Charles continued with a dreamy look, “But I controlled myself and let her do what she pleased.”
“And she didn’t even kiss you,” Richard said coldly, while William cast him a reproachful look.
“No, she invited me to dinner tonight.” Charles’ smile didn’t fade at all. “And her voice was very hoarse when she was speaking,” he added proudly.
“And you are happy about a kiss that never was? Let me tell you, you are in the dark. I made love to her. Do you hear me? I made the most passionate, feeling, sensational, worshipping love to her and she doesn’t care! So, spare me your stupid excitement, will you?”
William could swear that these were the harshest words his cousin had uttered. But, as he had witnessed the degradation of his spirits in the last two weeks, he didn’t even bother to become angry with his rudeness. He only stated,
“That was mean.”
“No progress in the Monika field?” asked Charles who didn’t seem at all disturbed by Richard’s insulting speech.
“Oh, great progress!” Richard cried ironically. “She was very explicit: ‘We had an amazing night, but I don’t want to get involved with you, because I don’t like you, even though I was attracted to you. And now, that we have satisfied our curiosity, you had better take Phil for the night shifts. To avoid embarrassment.’” Richard quoted the words that had given him more pain that he had imagined could exist, imitating the scary coldness in Monika’s voice when she had spoken them, on the day that she reappeared. Charles only shrugged, while William shook his head. “So, I enjoy a wonderful companionship with my bodyguard.” Richard said, as the muscles of his face contracted in his attempt to smile ironically. “I spend all day with her, not daring to even look at her. And I don’t have the guts to fire her.”
“She doesn’t have the guts to quit either, Richard,” William observed quietly.
“She can’t stay away from you any more than you can stay away from her,” Charles completed his friend’s logic.
“Exactly. You only have to prove that you are not the man everyone believes you are,” William said, unable to eliminate the teasing tone in his voice.
“What an easy task!” Richard said icily. “And what a help to hear from your relatives that everyone thinks you are a cad. Thanks, cousin, but how do you suggest that I can do that?”
“You have done it in so many films, why do you ask me? You are the expert at winning hearts.”
“Yes, by someone else’s screenplays! It’s all so easy when you have all the great lines! But what am I to do in real life, when I cannot make myself understood however much I try?” Richard had abandoned his haughty scornful look and seemed truly humbled and vulnerable. The other men took pity on him.
“If this was a screenplay, I would have an answer for you now,” William told him pensively. “As it is, I can only wish you luck. You know that I will always be here to listen to you, right?”
“Yes, but I won’t be here. We’re leaving England on Monday.” Richard said grumpily.
“Well, you can always call us and bring us down to earth.” Charles said looking sympathetically. “And remember, if Jane forgave me, there is always hope.”
“I am sorry for spoiling your fun, Charles. I hope you’ll have a lovely time with Jane tonight. You too, Will, with your Elizabeth. You deserve it.”
Charles winked at him, as William said, “Well, Phil is not that bad of company, is he?”
Richard threw him a cushion, but at least he laughed; a genuine, healthy laugh that had not been heard from him in the last two weeks.
Friday evenings were Jane’s favorite time of the week. She usually spent them at home, alone or with some company she felt at complete ease with. It was her special time, her relaxation hours that filled her with energy and strength to confront all the difficulties of the week. So, when Elizabeth was informed that Jane had invited Charles for dinner that Friday, she knew that these two would end together. And very soon too.
It had been almost two weeks since a repentant Charles had shown up at Jane’s doorstep, and things were progressing rather fast for them. They both craved each other’s company and didn’t care to hide it anymore. The last week they had met each day, to discuss work or to go for a walk in the park, watch a movie they both loved, and go to the shops to pick a present for Louisa’s upcoming wedding. Jane had decided that she had a great time with Charles, but she wanted more from him. Regardless of what had transpired between them, and free from the comparisons with Jason that used to haunt her, she had come to love this man. And to desire him; desperately so.
Elizabeth understood her sister very well. That’s why she agreed without a moment’s hesitation to help her choose her attire for the evening, even though she knew that Jane had impeccable taste and, in any case, there were no clothes in which she would not look stunning. So, the Bennet sisters spent their evening pleasantly helping each other dress and laughing as they exchanged hairstyles. Elizabeth, who usually had her hair down or in a loose ponytail, had now let Jane pin it up beautifully; allowing only some curly locks to fall on her brow and temples. Jane, who always preferred her hair up had now let it free. And she tossed her head, almost amazed at the feeling of blond waves that followed her movements.
“I think I will let my hair loose at lunch tomorrow as well...I feel so carefree!” Jane said smilingly and Elizabeth chuckled.
“I don’t think we can feel carefree tomorrow at lunch, no matter what we do with our hair, Jane. I don’t think I will exhale until dad and Teresa are safely out of mom’s house.”
“Mom proposed this lunch herself, Lizzy.”
“Yes, but she invited them out of curiosity. She wants to make sure that dad is unhappy without her. And I fear to think how she will react when she sees him so happy. After all, she will see him the day after his engagement!”
“Poor dad, he seemed so anxious this morning,” Jane said sympathetically. While Elizabeth had invited Teresa to Meryton’s offices to show her around, Jane had undertaken the task of helping their father pick out an engagement ring. They had spent a morning filled with Paul’s indetermination, second thoughts and insecurities that would have been fit of a teenager, but Jane had felt closer to her father than ever. Both daughters were happy to be around on such an important moment of their father’s life and they were anxious to hear a report of good news as soon as possible.
“Will Charles join us tomorrow?” Elizabeth asked, and if her sister could look her in the eye, she would have recognized her mischievous look.
“I didn’t ask him to.” Jane sounded very pensive. “It seemed a very family moment. After all, we’re not… And mom will think that…” She failed to continue.
“But we have such a nice excuse for this gathering!” Elizabeth laughed. And indeed, she found her mother’s idea amusing but considerate as well. They were celebrating Charlotte’s non-wedding, which had been scheduled for that day. Not wanting to leave her sensitive step daughter alone with any regrets on such a date, Fanny had decided to organize a family lunch, inviting her ex-husband and his companion, giving to everyone new sources of concern, other than Charlotte’s feelings.
“You haven’t invited your boyfriend either, so, stop teasing and help with this zipper that won’t come up!” Jane gave an end to the conversation.
William came to pick Elizabeth up directly from Jane’s home, almost simultaneously with Charles’ arrival—since they had left his house together but took different cars. So, Jane was spared any moments of anxious waiting alone and was given moments of embarrassment and amazement instead. She could not help staring at Charles. He had always been invariably charming, but on this particular night he seemed breathtakingly handsome. He wore a dark green shirt that set off his complexion perfectly and had left the first button undone, so she could catch a glimpse of his very strong and masculine chest. She swallowed hard and forced her eyes to move to his face, but that was not helping either. The fire in his eyes was undeniable; his smile was irresistible. She wondered how she was going to get through that dinner.
Unbeknownst to her, Charles was having a similar struggle. Despite his certainty that he could not be more bewitched than he already was, he found himself falling even harder for that wonderful woman, the kind, generous, clever, strong but also incredibly beautiful and devastatingly sexy woman whom he was having dinner with. And he wondered how much further his self discipline could go. But he could not fool himself. He knew that his stock of it was running short.
Jane poured him a glass of scotch and they began talking about their day and their work. It was a fortunate thing that none of them paid attention to what they were saying, because at least half of the answers did not correspond to the questions each politely made to the other. Jane decided to mention her father and the proposal he was going to make to Teresa, describing the difficulty they had finding a ring for such an extraordinary woman and deciding which words would be appropriate on such an occasion.
Charles loved watching her speak. Her recount was funny, witty, but hid at the same time a tender regard and anxiousness for the welfare of her father. Her face was soft; her look fell tender upon him, her eyes smiling. He got abstract again, no matter how hard he tried to concentrate on the subject she was talking about. All that he was aware of was her presence. He saw her pausing and looking at him expectantly, then frowning, feigning reproach. She had probably asked him something and was waiting for an answer that Charles could not possibly give. In mock exasperation, she asked,
“Have you heard a word of what I said?”
“None,” he admitted, while he met her eyes and held them locked with his own.
“Am I that boring?” She tried to make humor of the situation, but she was breathing far too quickly to succeed.
“Quite the opposite.” Charles knew that he was taking the path of no return. He was sitting next to her, and his head moved close to hers, as he whispered in a hoarse voice, “You are far too interesting for me to think of anything else.”
Jane didn’t know how to respond to such a remark, but she found that she didn’t have to as she felt his mouth on hers. His kiss was soft and lingering, like a caress. Gentle, considerate, giving her liberty to decide, not possessing, anxious or demanding. His lips brushed against hers and stayed there, whispering words of love and adoration that she could feel rather than hear. He was there for her, and he could wait, and he would it; loving her even if she kept him away; caring for her, not for him, because his own self, his own needs didn’t seem so important anymore. He didn’t plead for an answer; a response; a decision. He didn’t want to take anything from her; he only wished to give.
But Jane was ready, and she wished to take and to give back too. Her lips captured his and moved against his mouth in almost violent passion, so much that Charles, in his astonishment, was incapable of responding at first. But then, as her fervor made his own desire reach new heights, his hands moved tightly around her waist, and he pressed her against him, as his mouth was assaulting hers. Her lips parted and he tasted her for the first time. Images of total felicity passed in front of his closed eyes. Every nerve of his body seemed to end in his mouth; all his senses served him only to feel that kiss; nothing else mattered anymore. The sensation was so strong that it overwhelmed him. Tears appeared in his eyes and he could not explain why. He wasn’t sad; he was happy, but happiness only could not explain the complexity of feelings that made his heart almost painfully full and dampened his cheeks. When he felt Jane’s hands against his chest, he knew that she wanted to break the kiss; it was true that they needed air. Still he hated to leave her; he would feel abandoned, even if it was only for a moment.
Suddenly he realized that Jane’s hands were not pushing him back; they were unbuttoning his shirt. He gasped violently against her mouth, as she took a short breath and returned to his lips once again. His hands went up and down her back, until he found her zipper and undid it. He pulled the straps of her dress down the same moment that she freed him from his shirt. His eyes caught on her breasts, their perfect shape, their perfect analogy with the rest of her divine body that seemed to be crying for his touch.
The moment that his fingers run over her soft skin, he knew that he was lost forever. He had no idea how his hands could ever be persuaded to leave that spot. He fully cupped her breasts, trying to understand how Jane felt about his tender ministration. He broke the kiss momentarily and tried to look in her eyes. But they were shut; and Jane was far away, lost in a storm of passion. He wanted to bring her back, to the present, to share everything with her; to make it as special for her as it was for him. His hands still worshipping her creamy hills, he moved his lips to her earlobe, teasing it mercilessly until she opened her eyes again and looked at him in a way that almost took his breath away. He couldn’t stand rejection now; there was no way he could survive a rejection. But he had to ask, he had to know, he had to let her decide. His hands moved to her neck, caressing it so softly that it tickled her and she shivered. His index finger reached her jaw, and their eyes locked.
“Jane,” he whispered, desperate to make his voice devoid of pleading, “are you sure?”
“I am,” she answered, with the most confident voice Charles had heard from her.
“Jane, don’t let this moment drag you into something that you don’t want. I will barely stand it if you push me away now. But if you regret it afterwards…” His voice broke. “I am not sure if I…”
The feathery touch of her hand silenced him.
“Charles, I am sure. I want this as badly as you do.” She smiled guiltily.
Charles was struck by the realization that she was sincere.
“How? I mean, why me, Jane?”
“Because I love your essentials.” She said seriously, glowing.
“I know who you are.” She said softly and calmly, as the slightest doubt had vanished. “I love who you are. I love you, Charles.”
“Oh, my God. Jane, you cannot begin to imagine how much I love you.” His lips were on her neck, placing soft kisses, while his hands were moving up and down her back, sending shivers down her spine. “Above everything.” Soft moans escaped her. “Above life.” His lips traveled lower. “And how much I desire you.” Her breasts could hardly bear the torture of his mouth. “More than I had ever thought possible.” His lips were milking her, drinking from her and she wanted to give everything to him, everything to him to take care of, to worship, to send it to the sensational paradise he seemed to have the only key for. She arched her body against his, in complete surrender. “Be mine, Jane.” He whispered. She wanted nothing more than to abandon herself in his love that was so deep and was affecting her in so many ways. “Be mine, Jane, as I am yours.” Never, never before in her life had she felt so alive, so cared for, so sheltered, so sure of herself and of the man that was now showing her new limits of passion. And there were no comparisons anymore; there was no past, nothing else; nothing before this in her life. No fear, no betrayal, no sorrow; only Charles and her. “I am yours.” She uttered, and they seemed like the first words she had ever spoken. It was not a commitment, it was a release; she had never felt as free as in Charles’ arms; she thought that she was given a new life to lead.
His hands were everywhere at the same moment. His lips were teasing every molecule of her body at once. She couldn’t remember when or how their bodies became naked. She only knew that they were now entwined, pressed against each other tightly, as if they were one. She was not sure when she arched her hips against him, burning, begging, screaming for his touch, for him, for the fulfillment that seemed the only way to save and lose her sanity. But she could recall exactly the elation she felt when his palm touched the lower part of her belly, and moved around her legs, leaving marks, signs of a code that they were just discovering and sharing only with each other.
She didn’t know what she said, or what he whispered back to her. But she did recall the eyes that met her when she opened hers. They were clear, honest, scrutinizing, staring at her with an earnestness that would have shocked her before; but now only made her feel more secure, more loved, more certain of what she did. She was not sure how his hands found their way back to her head, playing with her hair, caressing her brow adoringly. But she did remember how all her body shook when he conquered her deepest secrets, her last resistance, the last thought that she kept to herself. And she did recall the feel of him, which filled her and left her asking for more, that answered all her needs and couldn’t begin to satisfy them.
And above all, she remembered his touch…The way he was gentle and full of passion at once. The way he was strong and vulnerable, scared and reassuring. The way he built up her pleasure step by step, as their sweaty bodies melted in each other and his panting breath showed that he was over the edge. And never in her life could she forget the waves of immense pleasure, painful, hard earned pleasure that crashed over her and broke her under their strength.
And she couldn’t tell if she screamed his name or not. All that she could think of was how wonderful her name came from his lips, how wonderful the letters sounded, when they were uttered by the mouth she had come to love more dearly than anything, at that moment of perfect wholeness and bliss.
William could not take his eyes off Elizabeth’s figure all evening long. He didn’t look at the table at all and only shrugged when she told him with that saucy smile of hers that his plate seemed quite interesting. In fact, he couldn’t tell what exactly he had ordered to eat. It was the first time that he saw the mass of her hair tight up, revealing her perfect, long neck. He wondered how he had never noticed its perfect shape and its inviting grace before. Now his only urge was to fill every tiny spot of it with kisses, until it was a familiar place with him; until he could memorize the feeling of each part.
Those thoughts were not appropriate at all for the expensive restaurant they were dining at. He had already felt the curious looks of the people around him, occasioned by the fact that he never had anything but business dinners there; and everyone looking at them could swear that this was not a business dinner. He didn’t care about their opinion at all; and he didn’t seek to conceal his relationship from them. But he didn’t want to hear or read anything insulting about them; he valued Elizabeth too much to see her on the front pages of the tabloids as a shameless seducer. So, he turned his eyes to her beautiful face and he was caught there.
The tempting locks that were adorning her brow led him to see details he had never noticed before. The perfect shape of her nose, the soft skin of her cheek, the beautiful line of her jaw, the glow of the place around her earlobes. He wanted to map every bit of her, to know her better that he knew himself. He could not possess her; he knew and respected that; but he wanted to spend his whole life exploring her, fully aware that the more he knew about her, the more appealing she became; it was a process of realizing her importance in his life, that made him only love her more.
She talked about her sister and Charles and she seemed so pleased that his heart became lighter; he was delighted to see her happy. So much that he cursed himself once again for the distress he had caused both to her and to Jane in the past.
“They look very well together, Elizabeth,” he said with a genuine smile, to gain an irresistible look from her.
“Don’t they?” She was excited, like a child. He loved her passion about everything, her generosity that was so gratified by seeing her beloved ones happy.
“Yes, and I think it won’t take them long to be completely inseparable,” he said with meaning. “Charles is a good man, Elizabeth. Your sister is an exceptional woman, but I believe that Charles deserves her. He really loves her. I’ve known him for so many years and I am certain that this time his feelings are deep, honest and lasting.”
Elizabeth touched his hand briefly; a sign of appreciation for the praise of her sister and the reassurance he offered.
“It is certainly a romantic week for my family. I only have to see how tomorrow will go to pronounce it one of the best weeks of the year.” At William’s questioning look, she told him about his father’s intention of proposing that night and also analyzed her fears regarding the family lunch that was awaiting her the following day.
William’s eyes were focused on her hand, her fingers while she was speaking. He fought the memory as well as he could, still the picture of his own proposal passed briefly before him. He remembered the ring; it belonged to her, it was made for her… She had turned it away, but somehow he felt that this ring would bind them, if any. He shook his head and took advantage of the first available pause to introduce another subject that was important for him.
“Elizabeth, I want to talk to you… about your job… and I am not quite sure how to say it…”
“You don’t want to fire me, do you?” she asked teasingly.
“No, of course not.” He spoke and exhaled simultaneously. “It’s about…” He cleared his throat. “I want to make you an offer.” Elizabeth looked at him expectantly, but he didn’t come to the point immediately. “Look, you’re all that matters in my life and my love for you has completely changed my life…for the better.” Elizabeth was at a loss as to where all this would lead. “However, I am sure that I can make good decisions and be totally unprejudiced where business is concerned.” He swallowed hard. “My admiration for your work and my love for you are different things, Elizabeth. And only the former, not the latter was involved in my decision to offer you the editor’s position at Meryton. No one is more capable to undertake the responsibility. No one deserves it more than you.” Noticing Elizabeth’s cheeks turning crimson and hesitation spreading all over her face, he added anxiously, “Really, it is a decision that is expected profit Pemberley. All the counsel members were in complete agreement. They begged me to make you accept the position.”
She was still not answering. Her lips had unconsciously parted a little in dismay. Trying to focus on the task before him, and not get side tracked again, William continued, “You don’t have to answer immediately. Think about it. Take your time. We want you there, Elizabeth, but it’s your decision,” he told her in complete earnestness, only to add a moment later, chuckling, “Though I am not sure how well they will think of the new president of the Net if he fails to accomplish an agreement that is so wished for.”
“William, this is not a game,” Elizabeth said seriously. “I want you to tell me the truth. No embellishments. Please.”
“I have always told you the truth, Elizabeth.” He sighed. “Even when it would cause nothing but pain to us both.” Their eyes locked in silent understanding. “And you have heard it, and born it. Please, hear it now that is far more pleasant than before. We want you. You are the best for the job. Consider the prospect… You will love it, I know you will!”
She could hear excitement in his voice as she searched his eyes for all the answers and reassurance she needed. And she found it there, in his direct, admiring, smiling look. She took a deep breath and announced with a steady voice, “I’ll be honored to undertake the position. I won’t let you down.”
“I don’t have any doubts.” He took her hand in his and caressed it affectionately, but discreetly. “After all, your predecessor was quite brilliant and set the best example for you.”
“In everything but modesty,” she teased him back.
“I can’t be modest. I am dating the most wonderful woman. Actually, I am very proud of myself.”
“You have grown quite insufferable, Will, do you know that?”
“It’s your fault. I never teased anyone before I met you,” he replied smugly.
William thought that he could spend the entire night in her doorstep, kissing her for hours, until at least a tiny amount of his thirst for her could be quenched. But he knew that he had to let her go all too soon for his taste. She had promised her father that she would be waiting for him. To offer her support in the most unlikely case that Paul Bennet would have to face rejection and consequent heartbreak. All the same, he could not make love to her as he had dreamed of all day long and had desperately desired from the moment his eyes met hers that night. His only comfort was that she seemed to be craving him as badly as he wanted her. She clung to him and returned his kisses with so much passion, that he was not certain how much longer he could ignore the voice that ordered him to make Elizabeth his that very instant. He tried to gain his self control, but his mouth seemed to have a will of its own and it traveled along her marvelous neck, tracing soft kisses everywhere, tasting what he had so desperately admired from afar during their dinner. Elizabeth marveled at how he always led her to different, unexplored paths of pleasure; as the last coherent thought evaded her, she knew that she could not deny him anything that he would ask. No considerations seemed more important than the pleading of her body to be covered, worshipped by his body, dancing with it in perfect harmony, relishing in their unison.
He knew it, and the decision to resist what she was offering was one of the most difficult he had ever made; only the knowledge that he was doing it for her sake enabled him to break the kiss. When she opened her eyes, she seemed a little surprised, as if she didn’t recognize the surroundings, but as realization struck her, tenderness and gratitude filled her eyes. She mouthed the words: “Thank you.”
He smiled warmly as his hands caressed her cheek lightly.
“You are an incredible woman, Elizabeth. To control myself for a night doesn’t seem a sacrifice, when I think how blessed I am to have you by my side.”
“Good, because I was momentarily afraid that I was losing my charm.” She was so deeply touched that she feared that unless she teased him, she would burst into tears.
“If only you knew how my desire for you drives me crazy. What a sleepless night I will spend tonight, thinking of you, remembering how beautiful you stood before me, how your body felt perfect in my arms, how my mouth aches when it doesn’t kiss yours,” he whispered against her ear. “Then you would not be in any doubt regarding your spell on me.”
“I love you, Will.”
“I love you, Elizabeth.”
William’s words and actions had succeeded in rendering Elizabeth unable to sleep or to stop thinking of him. She tried many distractions. She attempted to watch television, listen to music, eat something or drink some milk, anything that usually helped. Nothing proved to help, as the feel of him seemed to haunt all her senses. She walked all over the house, and even thought of cleaning it up, just to find away to exhaust herself to sleep. In the end, she thought of her last refuge: reading. The novel that was currently on her nightstand was far too philosophical to help her relax, so she searched for a magazine in her archives. As she was picking up an old Meryton issue, the idea struck her: she had never looked for the issue that followed the one in which she had found the threatening note! She had searched for any possible evidence from other sources, but this one she had completely forgotten, though it was the first one she had intended to look at.
It was the work of an instant. She knew. She could never turn back. She felt as if she had aged by years; she felt that her life would not be the same; that something was about to take place. The metamorphosis had already started. Her body began shivering from a strange feeling she had rarely experienced. It was more than the mere excitement that a possible answer could provide; it was the absolute certainty than it was a matter of hours until she would know everything. She couldn’t explain why; but she knew that if she went to Meryton’s offices that very moment, the suspense would be over. And something far worse, that she couldn’t even conceive at present, would begin.
She hesitated only for an instant. She ignored the fear that had somehow intruded and made her breath strained and the flow of blood in her veins palpable, painstaking. She dismissed the thought of calling William; her inner voice told her to go alone. But there was no way she could get rid of the bad feeling that filled her, spreading a coldness all over her body and leaving a strange taste in her mouth…It tasted like blood…Had she bitten her lips? Why did she have to do this if she was so scared? There were no answers, just the need to act only in one way; the way an inner voice dictated mercilessly. This would lead either to salvation or destruction. She put on the first clothes she could find and ran out of her apartment.
The building of Meryton was not dark, but for the first time it seemed cold; and unfriendly. Moreover, she had the feeling that someone was watching her. ‘Am I going crazy?’ She tried to dismiss the fears that would have seemed ridiculous to her two hours ago, but now, at this place, at this hour, the feeling was so palpable it almost paralyzed her.
She found the issue she was looking for, throwing other papers around like a maniac. As she expected, the editorial was not written by Anne Darcy. Her name was mentioned nowhere throughout the issue; she had disappeared. Elizabeth read everything; not a single line escaped her examination. And even though Wickham’s name was not mentioned at all, she was neither disappointed nor disheartened. Her conviction was not shaken at all. She knew that she was close, so close that she could touch the solution of this cursed mystery. She returned to the archives’ collection and gathered all the copies of the issue she had been reading so carefully.
When she saw it, she didn’t gasp; she was not surprised. She only took a deep breath, knowing that the irrevocable had just taken place. Right in the depth of the shelf, evidently untouched for the last twenty-two years was the only issue that had the same number on it, but was not in the least similar to the rest. Elizabeth’s hands trembled as she read the title: “John Wickham uses ‘Security in public schools’ program to distribute drugs to innocent children.”
The editorial was written by Anne Darcy. The most astute, the most remarkable journalistic piece Elizabeth had ever read. Her breath was caught in her lungs. All her suspicions were true, and the proof was there, in the pages before her. Anne Darcy provided names, facts, lists, reports, details. Her accusations were perfectly founded, and Elizabeth doubted that more than half a day would be needed to certify everything. It was Anne’s masterpiece; written while she was conscious that it was probably the last thing she could do, written in doubt if it would manage to be published; written in full knowledge of the risks but without the tiniest amount of fear. Written by a great woman, fighting a great struggle, knowing that she would probably lose it all the same.
Elizabeth had in her hands what she had been desperately searching for in the past weeks; but nothing akin to satisfaction filled her. The only feeling she was aware of was terror, pure, tormenting terror. A weird noise reached her ears and she startled, not being sure if it was a real menace or a product of her tortured mind. The adrenaline in her blood was more than she could bear. She knew a secret that had brought pain, death and so much fear and darkness in countless lives. She felt the responsibility, which fell like a suffocating burden on her shoulders. Fear paralyzed her. The suspicion that she was being watched became a certainty. She wanted to scream but realized how unlikely it was for anyone to hear. Where were the security guards? Where were they?
In her panic, she grabbed the issue and began running. She almost fell down the stairs. She pressed her hands against the wall, to gain support and find the strength to continue. Sweat was running down her cheeks, she was panting, her hair was now undone and fell in her eyes, blocking her vision. But she kept going, running like mad, dreading the invisible enemy and praying to see a human figure soon, to force her to return to something like her normal self, to tell her that life was not so changed as it seemed. To tell her that she would live; that they would let her live.
She was crying now and the effort seemed too great for her to make it. She saw the exit of the building as her only hope to stay alive. She half suspected that someone would shoot at her before she had a chance to see the dark sky again. And the irrational craving for the sight of dark sky caused sobs to overtake her. She managed to leave the building without anyone attacking. She stood still only for a moment. Only for a second to breathe in the cool breeze she had feared she wouldn’t have the chance to feel on her face again. And then she ran as fast as her legs could take her to the pub that was only a block away.
‘Everything will be fine,’ she thought as she reached the entrance and her grip on the magazine became instinctively tighter. ‘Nothing will happen if I am in a crowded place. And I will call Will to come and pick me up, and we’ll go to the police and we’ll be safe.’ She stood for a moment to stop panting, to arrange her hair and put a happier look on her face before she entered. She went directly to greet the owner, whom she was acquainted with. She wanted to show anyone who was watching that she was not alone.
“Good evening, Miss Bennet.” He welcomed her with a warm smile. “Always a pleasure to see you here.”
At the sound of her name, the woman who was sitting nearby turned her head immediately. Elizabeth felt terrified as she met her scrutinizing look and felt the urge to start screaming or run away, to a place no one could find her. She was afraid that the woman would take out a gun and shoot her at any moment. The eyes that were looking back at her were cold, defiant, but Elizabeth could even discern a glint of inner amusement in it. ‘Will she be so happy to kill me?’’ T
he owner was looking at her expectantly, waiting for an answer obviously. But what had he asked? How she was faring or what she would have? She tried to follow her instinct and knowledge of him that she had.
“I am fine, Mr. Jones. And you?”
“I am doing great, Miss Bennet, thank you.” He smiled warmly, as Elizabeth heaved a sigh of relief. “Now, is there anything you would like to drink?”
“I’ll have a scotch, please,” she said, doubting that it would be strong enough to help her knees stop trembling.
The owner moved a few steps away. Elizabeth opened her handbag, put the magazine into it, and grabbed her cell phone. She had not dialed more than half the number when a very well known and despised voice was heard behind her.
“Trust me, you don’t want to talk to him before you talk to me.”
And then despite her fear, despite the pain in her chest, despite the haunting words of Anne Darcy’s last editorial that echoed in her mind, she smirked. She smirked gracelessly, letting a huge amount of tension escape and appearing more brave and fearless than she was or wanted to show. Trust George Wickham? That man had quite a sense of humor!
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