“I’ll have a martini, shaken, not stirred.” Richard stated.
Most faces turned to look at the four of them. It was true that they could not avoid drawing attention. Darcy and Bingley were two of the richest and certainly the two handsomest bachelors in England. Moreover Darcy hated social gatherings and the opportunities to look at him in those sexy tuxedos were extremely rare. All the women, single or married, teenagers or middle-aged, fortune-hunters or not, were determined to make the most of it. William was therefore obliged to bear with good humor all the hungry eyes that were devouring him since his entrance into the room. Charles wasn’t paying attention to anything except the door, waiting for Jason’s appearance with a tight jaw and clenched fists. It seemed that hatred was the only feeling that touched his heart that evening. Richard, who usually felt completely at home at parties, tonight was evidently more nervous than ever. The mysterious woman walking by his side, who drew lots of male eyes on her and reminded him nothing of the casual style of his bodyguard, deteriorated his condition with every passing moment.
“See how the rumors about his undertaking the ‘James Bond’ role have begun?” Monika addressed Charles to help him relax a little.
“It’s not my fault that I like it this way!” Richard said a bit too defensively.
Monika looked at him surprised by his unusual reaction. Then her eyes turned to William who was sipping his champagne silently, dark shadows spreading across his face.
“You guys are not good company tonight!” She sighed defeated.
An irritating voice was heard after this remark.
“Not good company? William? My dear girl, how little you can see in people!”
It was Caroline Bingley. Monika hated it when anyone called her a girl, but Richard grabbed her arm and they moved away before she had time to react. William spoke to Caroline with a false smile.
“So, Caroline, I take it that you can read my mind then?”
She thought that she was making excellent progress. ‘This is what happens when Elizabeth Bennet is not in my way!’ Caroline congratulated herself on managing to throw the Bennet girls out of the picture.
“After so many years of…” She paused to add reluctantly “…friendship, I flatter myself that I can,” Caroline said proudly.
“And how would you call my mood tonight, Caroline?” He continued feigning great interest.
“The mood that pleases every woman,” she whispered seductively, moving closer to him. Charles, who had been watching them closely, called upon all his self control to refrain from slapping his sister.
“Then it is too bad that the woman I want to please more than anyone else is not in this room,” William said with such coldness and palpable anger that Caroline didn’t dare follow him as he moved to another corner of the room. She looked at Charles whose face betrayed his contempt.
“What does this mean, Charles? He was referring to Georgiana? Georgiana is the woman he wants to please… What a brother, right Charles? By the way, why didn’t dearest Georgiana come here tonight?” Caroline mumbled.
“Caro, can we pretend that we don’t know each other for the rest of the evening? I don’t think I can take any more stupidity,” Charles said and left her unable to move, to speak and almost enable to blink for five full minutes.
With a smile playing on his face, William watched the argument between Richard and Monika, who was most displeased that her employer had not let her utter a retort Caroline’s insulting remark. Suddenly, his features changed and became much tenser. Charles followed the direction of his look and spotted a very elegant Jason Younge surrounded by four women who were looking at him adoringly. His face became red with anger. Monika and Richard noticed the changes in them and stopped their bickering. Monika tapped William’s shoulder.
“Shall I go now?”
“Not yet. Richard you go first and draw the attention of the women. Take them with you… Wait, not all of them… Leave the one with the red hair there. I want her to be present when Monika acts. I know her, she’s a reporter. She doesn’t work for Pemberley, but it’s even better like this. Laura Moore, that’s her name. The tabloids’ greatest scandals always have something to do with her. This is good, even better than what we had planned. Charles, go and tell the photographers to be ready. Monika, do you remember what you have to do?”
“Now, he’s a real boss,” Monika commented only to receive an angry look from Richard as he left to follow his cousin’s orders.
Ten minutes later Monika was approaching Jason who was talking alone with the red headed woman. Everything was ready.
Even though Georgiana Darcy was a shy person who had lost her trust in men quite early in life, she was not completely inexperienced at dating. She had watched movies with men several times without any particular fluttering of spirits. This night however, with Alex, was quite different. Even though she tried to be indifferent and create a buddies’ atmosphere between them, her body was particularly treacherous. She was acutely aware of the need that was suddenly burdening her heart, the need to be lost in his embrace, to feel his arms tighten around her. Once or twice during the film, when the poor new Mrs. De Winter fell in the traps of the evil Mrs. Danvers and was humiliated in front of the eyes of her husband, Georgiana instinctively turned to him and buried her face into his shoulder. She withdrew instantly of course, but she wondered if he had felt the powerful electric waves between them that she had experienced.
Alex represented warmth and safety for her. His smile made her forget that she had ever known disappointment; his eyes were a source of hope and courage. He had such beautiful eyes; they seemed incapable of hosting a disapproving or angry look. She now recalled Christmas day: how frightened she was to meet his gaze after she had made her confession; how relieved, what elation she felt when she resolved to look at him, only to discern compassion and concern.
She wondered when those precious feelings were born. Alex had worked for Richard for at least three years and she had met him many times in the U.S. But she had never felt the way she did now. They had some stimulating conversations together, they shared many interests, she found his company invariably pleasant; actually she was very happy each time Alex accompanied her cousin when they met. But never before had she suspected that she was on the verge of falling in love with him. She realized that she had never permitted herself to acknowledge anything more than friendship, although the roots of her present feelings must have existed for quite a while. But, before that fateful Christmas day she was a prisoner, suffering from a punishment that she has willingly imposed upon herself: to keep her heart closed and ‘protected.’ However now she was free; free to discover that her heart was already given to someone. Not in the least discontented by the realization, she turned her attention to the screen.
Flames are devouring the evil Mrs. Danvers. ‘His eyes, oh so warm and so focused on the screen!’ The fire’s approaching Rebecca’s bedroom. ‘His frown is adorable…’Surrounding the bed, the pillow with the monogram…’Why is he smiling?’ THE END. ‘Good, and now what?’ Georgiana thought, as Alex’s presence next to her became more and more distracting. If she had not watched ‘Rebecca’ so many times before, she would have had no idea what the film was about. She longed and dreaded the end, as it would inevitably bring conversation between her and Alex. Just the two of them.
“So…” Alex began.
“So…” repeated Georgiana, her eyes very focused on the pattern of the carpet on the floor.
“Did you like it?” Alex uttered and then felt completely stupid.
‘Bad, this is so bad.’
“Yes,” Georgiana answered. “I love all Hitchcock’s films.”
“It was the first one that he shot in the US.” Alex said enthusiastically. Hitchcock was his favorite director and he was glad that Georgiana shared his passion.
“I must say that I am a bit disappointed by the compromise he makes in the end…” Georgiana was gaining more courage with every passing moment.
“Meaning?” Alex asked with genuine interest.
“Well, the original Max de Winter in the novel does kill Rebecca. He doesn’t say that it was an accident as it happens here. Much more powerful that way.”
“I agree,” Alex admitted pensively. “But come to think of it, he managed to shoot the film keeping the heroine without a name. Perhaps making Lawrence Olivier act the killer after this was too much!” Alex laughed and Georgiana joined him, feeling completely at ease.
“Ah, the name!” she cried happily. “One of my favorite occupations in the past. Whenever I was having a sleepless night, I was imagining all the possible names the new Mrs. De Winter could have had.”
“And have you actually decided on the subject?”
“No, I must admit that I have not.” She sighed, feigning disappointment. “Nothing has pleased me… Have you ever tried it?” she asked playfully.
“Of course I have! But no success here either.”
“Just tell me some of your names,” Georgiana encouraged him
“Well, there is the obvious choice of Maria. Don’t smile like that, Anna—it’s the natural consequence of watching ‘The Sound Of Music’ too many times: one comes to think that every innocent girl in the world is called Maria.”
“And every evil Baroness is called Elsa?”
“Exactly!” Alex said, enjoying their interaction immensely and without thought , he added, “I have found a kindred spirit in you, Anna.”
Georgiana startled and averted her eyes. She was actually blushing. After making fun of the stupid habit of women’s blushing, now she was blushing herself. Alex wished he had bitten his tongue instead of speaking. He knew that the worst thing he could do was to rush her… And there he was, rushing her.
“Anna, I am sorry… I didn’t mean that… I…”
Georgiana felt a wave of disappointment on hearing his words of apology. And it was then that she decided to collect herself and not act childishly anymore. Alex was different than the other men who had approached her: tender, caring in a quiet way, avoiding the grandiose words and tearful declarations that she had come to hate as well. And she wasn’t going to let this chance be wasted.
“You really didn’t mean it?” she asked looking directly into his eyes, with a playful smile on her face. Alex derived from it all the courage that he needed.
“Actually, Anna,” he whispered coming closer to her until their faces were almost touching: “I did mean it… and I meant many more things as well. Do you want to hear them?”
All Georgiana knew was that she wanted to feel his lips upon hers. “Now?” she whispered, her mouth touching slightly his.
“Not now,” he answered firmly as his arms encircled her waist and pulled her closer. “After this.” His lips lingered for a moment upon hers. He began kissing her, tenderly, without haste, as if they had all the eternity before them. Slowly, he released his passion and poured more and more in that kiss, thrilled to see that she responded with an equal degree of desire. When they broke the kiss, flames lit the eyes of both, but they chose to control themselves. They did have all of eternity before them. Georgiana smiled mischievously.
“Now,” she said. “I am all ears.”
When Monika joined Jason and the journalist, he was already narrating his life’s tearful story. He was describing his wife’s cold heart and endless number of lovers. Monika was allergic to lies and she had to call upon all her self-control in order to sit and listen to him, smiling innocently and waiting for the right moment to interrupt. At last the moment came.
“And even when I found her in our own house with my own chauffer, I forgave her and…”
As Laura Moore nodded with compassion, Monika said with every pretense of good humor,
“I feel nothing but compassion for you, Mr. Younge…”
“Please, call me Jason…” he said flirtingly, oblivious to Monika’s inner disgust and Richard’s poisonous looks.
“Jason then… A man like you, falling victim to such a cliché!”
“Pardon me?” he asked confused, while the reporter’s look spoke of her interest.
“You know, being married to the cruel woman that you cannot satisfy no matter what you do. And she ends up preferring the servants rather than you… It happens all the time.”
The other woman nodded her agreement, but Jason was not at all pleased with the explanation.
“What do you mean that I couldn’t satisfy her?” He had started the sentence in a raised voice, but checked himself immediately, so that the word satisfy came in a strangled whisper. There was no mistaking of his tone however; he was clearly disturbed. A reporter like Laura Moore could never fail to discern such an abrupt change.
“Mr. Younge, why are you so upset? I am sure that the comment was well meant, am I right?” she asked Monika.
“But of course,” she agreed readily, hiding the devilish smile as best as possible. “I only meant to comment on this woman’s despicable character. It really amazes me that you put up with her for so long.” Monika saw him relax momentarily and began really enjoying her game. “Why did you, by the way?”
“Excuse me?” Jason’s features became tensed again. Laura’s eyes lit and she tightened her fist unknowingly to the rest, as if saying: ‘How did I not ask him that’
“I asked you why you stayed with such a horrible woman for so long.”
“I loved her!” His voice rose once again, but upon noticing two or three heads turning questioningly towards their direction, he suppressed his dislike of the turn of the conversation. He smiled sadly, sighed, and repeated in a soft voice, “I loved her.”
“Loved her?” Monika repeated. Yes, Jason knew the rules of the game very well, but there was no way she was letting him win. “She had not one decent value and you loved her? Why?”
Laura looked like a child in front of the Christmas tree. Jason didn’t answer and Monika continued in an innocent way,
“Was she beautiful? Did you love her because she was beautiful?” she asked softly and added, “It’s understandable, Jason.” She caressed his shoulder.
If it was not for William’s tight grip, Richard would have attacked them that moment.
“No!” Laura cried, very hurt and furious. “It’s not at all understandable! It’s disgusting! Staying and suffering with her just because she was beautiful is REPULSIVE!”
Even Monika had not expected such a passionate reaction by Laura. She could not have known of course that Laura’s husband had left her less than a month ago in order to live with a gorgeous blond model with legs two meters long. So, the reporter was rather prejudiced against relationships that were based solely on physical attraction. In any case, Monika’s remark had worked even better than she had planned. Laura’s outburst had not gone unnoticed. Several people had turned to look at them. Even though they previously spoke too low for anyone to hear, she knew that the evidently agitated faces of the two people in her company were enough to trigger speculation. Even though now everyone seemed to have resumed their previous discussions and no one was giving apparent attention to them, Monika actually felt the rumors of an argument between Jason and Laura spreading across the room. The occasional quick glances several people were casting on them before turning their heads away, seemed to confirm her suspicions. Jason noticed that as well, and before thinking clearly, he whispered to Laura angrily,
“For heaven’s sake woman, don’t raise your bloody voice!”
Laura was appalled.
“How dare you speak to me in this way?”
No one was looking at them openly, except perhaps Richard, but undoubtedly there was hardly anyone in the room who was not speaking of them. Monika, in absolute calmness, addressed Laura.
“My dear, please do not be angry with Jason…I am sure he didn’t mean to sound offensive. Maybe we have upset him too much, without realizing it.” There was a flame of challenge in her eyes, barely decipherable as she turned to Younge,
“Have we, Jason?” The tiniest hint of irony was hiding in her voice.
“Don’t put words in my mouth!” Jason hissed, tossing his arm violently, as if he intended to remove the anger that made every fiber of his body vibrate. His face was almost red, from the suppression of strong emotions. Never before had he so much trouble in adjusting to the demands of civility. But now he understood that the woman before him knew the truth and was toying with him. Every molecule in his body revolted at the idea, and he was not certain for how much longer he was going to be able to control his reactions.
Monika retained her calmness and good-humored look. Her voice seemed almost apologetic to Laura, but Younge knew that it was only one more trick of hers.
“I am only trying to understand…”
“What the hell do you want to understand?” Jason still spoke in a stifled voice, but he seemed ready to explode.
“Why didn’t you just leave her?”
“I didn’t want to leave her!”
“How did she manage to keep you a prisoner in this awful marriage?” Monika asked and the irony was too evident now. Laura’s look that seemed equally hostile did nothing to help Jason’s self control.
“Stop it!” His eyes had narrowed dangerously.
“It isn’t as if you had any secrets she knew that you didn’t want to become known…”
“I am warning you: STOP IT!!!”
“Actually it was her who had that dark secret about the child…”
“For the last time: STOP IT!!!” He couldn’t stand it anymore. All his good breeding, all his calmness, all his capability to use people and avoid their traps were evaporating.
“Wasn’t she, Jason?” Monika ignored him
“SHUT UP YOU BITCH!!!” He finally yelled at her.
A massive gasp was heard and every pair of eyes in the room was staring at them but Jason had lost the capability to care about them anymore. Before anyone could react, the back of his hand came forcefully towards Monika’s face. Her lower lip received a very strong blow and began bleeding almost immediately. Professional as she was, Monika kept her balance, despite the force of the hit, and barely moved an inch, just continued to stare at him provokingly. Laura let out a gasp and put her hand over her face to refrain from screaming; they were at a party, for God’s sake! Who did he think he was to disturb everyone in such a way? As the initial shock faded, a man’s voice was heard, “He just struck a woman in public, imagine what he’s capable of in private!” It was not coincidental that the man who spoke stood just next to Darcy. Whispers followed this exclamation, in confidential, hushed tones in the beginning. But with each passing moment, the voices raised more and more, the looks on the faces became clearly disapproving and hostile. A whirl, a storm surrounded Younge and it almost left him breathless.
It was not a party anymore; it was not a social gathering where everyone was supposed to be civil and bear with inane remarks and false praise. It seemed as if the slap that Jason had given to Monika had hit the hypocritical attitudes of many. He had broken the rules; the same rules that he used to promote his image. He had not respected the social restrictions that everyone blindly obeyed to. Perhaps many people in that room were worse than him. However, no one wanted to be reminded of that at a social gathering; no one had the right to expose such dark secrets in public. They were all obliged to pretend that malice didn’t exist in their world. Whether it was the action itself, or the time and place that it took place which repulsed most people, no one could really say. The truth, however, was that Jason Younge had brought his downfall all by himself. And it was going to be a painful one.
Darcy looked at the photographers questioningly and they nodded in the affirmative. They had captured the ‘moment.’ He sighed in relief. Richard instantly ran next to Monika to help her, but her look warned him to step back.
“That was far too easy, boy…You are even less clever than I had expected.”
And she walked away, with Richard following, as every eye rested upon Jason. Charles came closer, while the rest of the crowd had formed a circle around Jason.
“Mr. Bingley, you must know that I…”
But Charles had no wish to talk. He hit him with all the power that he possessed. Jason fell on the floor, nearly unconscious and bleeding. As soon as Jason began blinking his eyes and sighing in evident pain, Charles cried with a firm, crystal clear voice so that everyone could hear him:
“That was for transforming JANE BENNET’S life into a hell! With your lies, duplicity and incapability to care for anyone beyond yourself. If you DARE to say a word against her ever again, I WILL KILL YOU WITH MY BARE HANDS! Is this clear?”
Caroline felt her knees trembling. This party was beginning to imitate her worst nightmares. Her brother striking another man during a social gathering was quite a bad thing, but her brother hitting Jason Younge to defend Jane Bennet was inconceivable. She had to think, and to think quickly. She wondered if she should publicly reprimand her brother to show that she was not supporting his actions. A look around her was enough to put an end to all these thoughts. People were openly approving Charles’ course of action and turning even more hostile towards Jason. Moreover she had never seen her brother so determined. She had gone against his will many times in the past but now she knew that if she showed the slightest sympathy towards Jason, there was no turning back. After all, she had introduced them and now she felt that she had to save herself. She opened her mouth to praise her brother but suddenly became aware of William’s sardonic gaze on her and chose to remain silent.
Jason presented a humiliating sight. Crawling in the center of the room, he lost all the dignity that he had left. He searched for an ally among the reprimanding eyes; someone that would believe his story; someone that he could take with his side. Tears appeared in his eyes, in a last attempt to gain some pity at least. He saw William Darcy looking at him and he was petrified by the coldness that his eyes betrayed. A moment later, he heard his deep voice.
“Stop humiliating yourself and get lost, Younge. Whatever pity we might have felt for you is destroyed by your behavior. Don’t you dare to trifle with any of us… Ever again.”
Everyone in the room felt the urge to hug Darcy for his intervention that put an end to the horrible scene. Most of these people were anxious to return back to normal and pretend that everything was well; that nothing had happened. They were anxious to resume their meaningless conversations and return to the monotonous rhythm of the party. William smiled with contempt. He despised all these people, and for a moment the longing for Elizabeth, for the life she was giving to him, for the new glimpse of the world that she had offered, took hold of him. But he checked himself. He still had things to do. He would pine for Elizabeth later; when he would be alone; he and his loss. For the moment he tried to receive the looks of admiration of those around him with graciousness. Yes, they were insufferable, but he knew them: they might pretend that nothing was the matter for the moment, but they would be most willing to ruin Jason’s faultless image as soon as the new day would begin and they would take their telephones in their hands. They would spread the gossip even more quickly than he could via his newspapers.
Jason understood his meaning and was only grateful that Georgiana’s story didn’t come up as well. He momentarily thought of blackmailing Darcy with it to gain his support so that he could get out of this. But reading the determination in Darcy’s eyes, he decided against it. This battle was lost. He got up and walked to the door. Before exiting, however, someone grabbed his arm and the next moment he was facing Richard’s face, distorted from rage. Richard dragged him to the hallway, away from the rest of the party. Monika was there as well.
“Do not imagine that we’re over, Younge.” She said with a dark look.
Jason chose to address Richard.
“Is she your slut Mr. Fitzwilliam? A good one. But too clever. Trust me, the stupid are the best.”
“Shut up, you idiot scoundrel!” Richard shouted, amazing Monika by his anger. “Are you completely stupid? Don’t you see that you’re destroyed?”
“Oh, c’mon!” Jason laughed. “I must admit that my show tonight was not particularly convincing, but no one will remember it after a week.”
“Darcy will make sure no one will ever forget it!” Richard hissed, while Monika was looking at Jason questioningly. For a lost man, he looked too calm.
“No, he won’t.” Jason’s face lit. “I know things about his family that he ignores.”
“Are you trying to tempt me, Jason?” Darcy appeared in the hallway. His presence was intimidating, and the coldness of his eyes would have scared a man clever enough to detect it. His voice was full of irony, but Jason stupidly chose to ignore all the warning signs.
“Darcy, don’t be foolish. We can cooperate to reveal Wickham’s…”
“THERE IS NO WE, Younge! And tomorrow, there will be no you! If I were in your place, I would disappear. The farther away the better!!!” William spoke slowly, giving emphasis to every single word, to show that he was not likely to be influenced in the slightest. He had to make this pathetic specimen of mankind that stood before him understand that he had lost.
“You’ll never know why your mother left you, Darcy.” Jason said with a wicked smile, not at all disheartened by the hostile looks he received.
William’s heart began beating wildly; he hesitated for a moment, but just for one. He then remembered that the man before him was one of the most indecent that he’d ever met. So he answered with determination, in a low, deep voice.
“If the only way to learn the truth involves cooperating with you, Younge, I’d rather die than learn. Get lost now! I have to go and supervise the articles that will be the end of you!”
“Pardon me?” Younge looked truly nervous at last.
“Oh, the thickhead here is finally getting the point!” Monika said with a look full of contempt. “Had you imagined my dear that I would ever just sit there and let you bruise my lips if there was not a special reason? Do I look like that kind of person?”
Jason remained silent.
“She was acting of course!” Bingley joined them in the hallway. “We instructed her to approach you and make you lose your temper!”
“And we had photographers waiting to catch the result! And reporters ready to hear the details and write very long articles about a certain rogue’s nasty behavior,” Richard continued.
“That is the only reason that I refrained from beating you until you fell down senseless,” William said in a casual voice that still managed to send shivers to Jason who was becoming paler and paler.
“You see, Jason, we’ve learnt our lesson amazingly well,” Bingley said with a fake smile.
“You have much more to gain by pretending to be the vulnerable victim,” Monika concluded.
Jason swore in frustration. The fear of something inevitable took hold of him. Fear that was turning to terror with every word that he heard.
“But, if this offers any relief to you, you have performed the scoundrel’s part wonderfully tonight as well!” Monika said with a devilish smile, while Jason felt cold waves rushing him. “One would suppose that you were an expert in performing the monster’s parts.”
“That he is, Monika,” Darcy said firmly. “Now he must learn to perform the paying-for-my-actions part. For, if you think that we’re over, Jason, you’re sadly mistaken. Not after what you did to Jane. Not after what you did to my sister.”
“Please, please!” Jason was really terrified now. Their words were killing him, and he could not imagine what he would do even if the smallest portion of these threats became real. “I’ll do whatever you want. Please! Stop it! You scare me, for God’s sake!” he cried.
“You should be scared, Younge,” William replied coldly. “All the newspapers tomorrow will be analyzing this evening’s events. And I will make sure that they’ll keep analyzing them for a long time. Besides, my friend Bingley here, volunteered to publish two or three books on domestic violence… I am afraid the coincidence will not benefit you, Younge.”
Younge collapsed on a chair in despair.
“And of course, I will not rest until I find a more satisfying private punishment for you, Younge. Unfortunately for you, I have decided to protect better than before the people I care about.”
With that, they all departed from the hallway, leaving in the middle of it the shell of a formerly very confident man. The others remained there only long enough to hear Jason’s desperate cry:
It was the cry of a man who knew that he had played and that he had lost.
William left hastily after that, following a team of journalists and photographers that worked for him. Charles joined him, to make certain that the articles were humiliating enough. Richard and Monika remained in the party for a little longer, but in a secluded room. Four elderly women had volunteered to treat her still bleeding lip, but only succeeded in deteriorating her condition and making her furious. They were acting very mother-like but Monika didn’t feel like a daughter at all. Richard, who was well aware that his bodyguard hated to receive such attentions, realized that they had better go home. Therefore he said in a much raised voice, so that the four amateur doctors who had decided to save Monika could hear.
“Maybe we should go to the hospital and have some stitches,” they agreed heartily, while Monika groaned.
“I helped you all so much tonight, and this is how you repay me?” she whispered.
“I know that you hate hospitals,” Richard whispered in return. “But this is the only way to get permission to leave. They will turn wild otherwise.”
It occurred to Monika that she had underestimated Richard’s intelligence. She nodded her head and then declared that she wouldn’t feel at ease unless she consulted a doctor. People around them smiled approvingly after giving their best wishes for a speedy recovery, which Monika bore as best as she could, and began to leave. After all, it was late and it had been quite an eventful party; everyone was exhausted.
“You see how clever I am?” Richard said when they were left alone. “Go outside and wait for me,” she ordered. She hated to admit that Richard had ‘saved’ her.
But he seemed to have discovered a new source of stubbornness.
“No, I will take you to the car. After all, you are an injured person. You must not be left alone,” he answered mockingly, but somewhere in his voice there was a hidden portion of tenderness.
“Boss, I hate taking orders, and I hate being looked after.”
“Too bad for you. Tonight, I feel like giving orders and looking after you,” he replied with a devilish smile.
They walked out of the room arm in arm.
Richard sat in Monika’s room wondering if he was overstepping the limits. She had told him that she would be very angry if she got out of the shower and still found him there. But he felt as if he was fixed there, unable to move away. He couldn’t explain it; he just knew that he couldn’t leave her alone that night.
That he was attracted to her, he had known for a long time. After all, they worked together, they were constantly together, she was beautiful, she had that gorgeous body and sharp mind that could drive every man crazy; and he was only human. But Richard had met many women in his career, he had been attracted to a great number of actresses; and he had managed to shoot the most intimate scenes with some of them, completely controlling his instincts and behaving in a professional way. He had learnt not to act upon attraction when he knew that it would create a mess.
So, why couldn’t he leave Monika’s room? They had a wonderful relationship, she was the person who understood him better than anyone else, she was very good at her job and he couldn’t imagine anyone taking her place. A night with her would be a disaster. He was completely incapable of retaining a relationship more than three weeks and he knew that the strange friendship he shared with Monika wouldn’t survive such a mistake. Still, his legs refused to take him out of the room.
It was then that he was forced to realize that it was not just attraction. Monika inspired tenderness, and protectiveness, which was completely absurd considering independent personality. She seemed to bring out a side of him that he had never imagined existed. He understood that this was something rare and precious. And he wouldn’t let a night of passion to destroy it. Monika’s companionship and friendship were important to him, and he would learn to control his instincts in order not to lose them. He believed himself totally capable of not acting upon his attraction, as he had done many times before.
Monika got out of the shower, a towel loosely covering her slim figure. Richard looked on amazed, unable to speak. He couldn’t remember what he had been thinking, as he stood mesmerized. She didn’t notice him at first, as she moved to her wardrobe, but as her eyes fell on the bed, her angry expression showed him that he was completely unwelcome.
“Richard, I told you to leave!” It was the first time that she shouted at him in complete seriousness, but even that didn’t make him run out of the room as fast as he could. Instead, he stood up and moved towards her. For some unknown reason, he had a feeling that he was doing the right thing. He met her eyes; he matched the challenge. Richard would not be intimidated that night.
“I wanted to see if you are ok,” he said simply as he kept walking until they were very close.
Monika took a step back and replied.
“Ok, you saw that I am ok, now GO!”
But he didn’t seem inclined to listen to her. Closing the final distance between them, his eyes never leaving hers, he gently caressed her bruised lip. A small red drop surfaced and wet his long finger. The feel of her blood on his skin took him completely by surprise. That unexpected contact became instantly a liquid fire which traveled at light speed through both their bodies, leaving them breathless for a few seconds. There was no turning back now. He knew it, and she knew it as well. Their bodies’ reactions had decided their fate that night.
And then, as the space around them suddenly seemed to diminish, he was kissing her, wildly, almost crushing her. The pain she felt for an instant dissipated as the strong metallic taste of her blood diffused in their locked mouths.
In the next moment her towel lay forgotten on the floor while he carried her willing slim and aroused form to the inviting softness of the bed.
Enticingly, his accomplished hands roamed all over her in a desperate desire to discover and reveal and she clung to him fiercely wanting to forget herself in his exquisite touch.
Effortlessly and not fast enough, for their passion that seemed to grow with every passing moment, his clothes began to fly in the charged air. The newly exposed flesh, hot and velvety, allowed her to glue to him almost completely and he relished in the divine sensations her unrestrained actions evoked in him.
A new wave of agonizing desire began to wander madly though them, urging their craving bodies to combust in unison. Lips and tongues united, breasts and chest adhered, limbs entwined, hearts beating frantically as one, they finally joined in a wild tango. Matching perfectly their movements, they carved the form of their burning bodies into the pile of silky sheets, letting go to any remaining thoughts and living only the flame of the moment, until the liquid fire consumed them entirely.
Elizabeth was not particularly fond of traveling in the night, especially by airplane, but since that was the quickest way to get to William, she had decided to forget her likes and dislikes on the subject. The flight wouldn’t last for more than three hours; but it was four o’clock in the morning and almost everyone else, including her father and Teresa, was sleeping. She was too troubled to sleep. She had the worn issue of Meryton on her legs and the strange note in her hands and she was looking at it as if she expected to solve the mystery simply by staring. Teresa next to her yawned and opened her eyes. She whispered tiredly:
“Elise, the paper is not going to speak to you anytime soon. Put it down and close you eyes, my dear.”
“No, no! I have the best ideas during night.” Elizabeth answered firmly.
“Is stubbornness a family trait?” Teresa teased and moved to change position.
Elizabeth didn’t answer and continued to look at the paper in her hands, as Teresa closed her eyes again.
Stop your wife before it’s too late. For all of you. You know me too well, George. I don’t forgive mistakes.
George? George who? And who was J.W? And who was George’s wife? What was she doing? Who was threatening her? When had all this happened? Elizabeth sighed and perused for one more time the page of Meryton where the fateful note had been found. Teresa opened her eyes, sleep evading her, and said:
“Ok. You want us to think now, so think we will.”
Elizabeth smiled slyly. Teresa was a kindred spirit; an ally. She was very happy that she was coming back to England with her, even for a few weeks. She handed her the note, but Teresa gave it back to her.
“We know this by heart. It won’t reveal anything else to us, Elise.”
“And then how are we to proceed?” Elizabeth was evidently disappointed.
“Hey, you are the journalist and you ask me?”
It occurred then to Elizabeth that she had not followed her usual method of work in this case. She was functioning by her feelings, because she was certain that it had something to do with William. And even though her instinct was flawless up to that day, it had to be based on facts in order to help her find the solution. She decided to think professionally at last; after all she was very good at that. First of all, she wondered why she felt certain that William was part of this story, but couldn’t explain it; she had no doubt about it, but had no idea why. Then she turned her attention to the facts. A confident smile lit her features as she told Teresa:
“Since we can find nothing more by reading the note itself, we must gather information from the magazine where we found the note.”
“That’s my girl,” Teresa whispered approvingly. “Where did you buy the magazine from, Elise?”
“Oh,” Elizabeth blushed deeply. “I…it was…Will gave me some of the old issues he had in the archives as a present.” She managed to say at last.
‘No wonder she carries them everywhere with her then,’ Teresa thought and smiled as she noticed Elizabeth’s dreamy look.
“He knows what you like, right?”
“Oh, that he does.” Elizabeth said, looking at the blackness out of the window, bringing that moment in front of her. They had stayed longer at the office that night. He had taken her to the archives and asked her to select and take everything she wanted. Elizabeth was fascinated by old editions. She knew that she could access everything on the Net, but this just felt different. She had felt the excitement of a child in a toy store, although William’s intensive gaze on her as she was choosing, rendered her somewhat uncomfortable. When she had finished, he came close to her and enveloped her in his warm embrace. He then turned her softly, so that he could look in her eyes. He had said nothing, although Elizabeth was starving to hear the magic words coming out of his lips. But now, as she recalled that moment, his eyes, the way they were caressing her; nay the way they loved her, she felt that she was happy then. And he was happy too. They just didn’t know it.
“Elise, Elise…Do you feel like sleeping at last?” Teresa said after trying to gain her attention in vain.
“No, of course not!” Elizabeth checked herself and came back to reality. “We were saying?”
“That this issue comes from the archives,” Teresa reminded her patiently.
“Yes, so the only people who read this worked at Meryton.” Elizabeth felt very content with this realization.
“So it’s a threat for someone who worked in the magazine,” Teresa concluded.
“No, the threat is for the wife. The wife must stop what she’s doing, right? She’s doing a ‘mistake’ that someone won’t forgive, remember?”
“So the wife worked in the magazine?” Teresa asked.
“Well, maybe the husband worked there and his wife’s actions that caused the threat had nothing to do with Meryton.” She sighed unhappily. That would make things far more difficult, but they had to examine all the possibilities.
“What is your instinct telling you, Elise?” Teresa asked encouragingly, with much passion in her voice. There was only one way to bring the best results and that was to stimulate Elizabeth even more.
“Why did ‘George’ hide the note in the magazine? If he wanted it destroyed, he should have burnt it. If he wanted to ask for help, he would have gone to the police, not hide it in the issue…He must have wanted it destroyed but he forgot it in the issue. Maybe he did so subconsciously… Or… Maybe he wanted his wife to find it, without him speaking? The wife worked for the magazine.” Elizabeth stated, very confident. “The note has to do with the magazine.”
“Maybe both George and the wife worked for the magazine?” Teresa suggested.
“Yes, possibly.” Elizabeth was very pensive again. She seemed as if she was trying to dismiss a persistent thought. Finally she gave up and said, looking at Teresa sheepishly.
“Well, I know what you’ll think: that I am obsessed with Will, that I relate everything that happens with Will, but I can’t help it! My inner voice is screaming that this note has something to do with him as well.”
As soon as she had uttered the words, and before Teresa had any time to respond, realization struck Elizabeth. She cried quite loudly, waking the passengers around her: “Will’s father! His name was George! Yes, George Darcy! Teresa it’s him, I know it’s him!”
“Yes, sweetheart, but please speak lower or they will throw us out of the plane at 40,000 feet!”
“But, Teresa, haven’t you been listening to what I said? The ‘wife’ is Anne Darcy!” Elizabeth continued in the same tone but Teresa was so overwhelmed this time but she didn’t think of checking her this time.
“Someone was threatening Anne?”
Elizabeth didn’t answer immediately. She seemed to be searching for something. Then she exclaimed.
“Twenty two years ago! This issue dates twenty two years!” She tried to remember when exactly William said that his mother had disappeared. She couldn’t say for sure but it was about that long ago.
“This note has something to do with Anne Darcy’s disappearance,” Elizabeth said very seriously.
“Presumably,” Teresa corrected her. She was excited too, but she knew that the evidence was not enough for them to be certain yet.
“Oh, I am sure! We must look at the next issue! I bet that Anne Darcy has not written the editorial in that!”
“Well, where is the next issue?” Teresa asked impatiently.
Elizabeth looked for it into the small bag that she carried with her. She turned the bag inside out, she searched all the papers in it, but unfortunately it seemed that she did not possess the following issue. She was quite discontented by the fact; it seemed that she wished to find out the whole truth that very night.
“I’ll go to my office tomorrow and get it!” was all that she could content herself with.
Teresa smiled at her impatience.
“Elise, tomorrow is Sunday. Besides, you can find everything on the net.”
“Yes, I suppose so.” Elizabeth agreed reluctantly. She felt like a detective and couldn’t fight the urge to be at the office and collect all the clues.
Teresa saw the disappointment in her eyes and a wave of motherly affection overwhelmed her. She wanted to see this girl pleased, so she decided to try a little harder.
“Perhaps, we could find some clues in this issue?” She indicated the one Elizabeth was still keeping on her legs. “Some hints, perhaps? We can see what Anne was investigating or planned to investigate.”
Elizabeth was so excited with this idea that she kissed Teresa’s cheek, surprising her in the best way possible. Then she turned all her attention to the magazine. Teresa was very proud of herself, since she had managed to help her ‘dear girl’ so much and watched her amused for a few minutes. As Elizabeth was perusing the pages, her cheeks reddened with excitement and her eyes brightened, making her adorable. Her hand was playing with the curls that had escaped her loose ponytail and were falling on her face. She seemed like a teenager reading her favorite novel. The picture she presented was relaxing; so relaxing that Teresa felt her eyelids heavy again…
However, hardly had she closed her eyes than a gasp from Elizabeth made her open them again.
“No! It can’t be!”
Elizabeth’s eyes were wide with dismay. Her hand had moved to her mouth to prevent a cry from escaping. The color from her cheeks was quickly vanishing. She looked really agitated.
“What is it my girl?” Teresa asked full of concern. But Elizabeth seemed lost in her world, staring at a page, unable to speak. Teresa nudged her arm and said again: “What is wrong, Elise? Speak to me, please!”
“The Ministry of Education!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “This is too much of a coincidence!”
“Elise, you must see that you have to enlighten me about this,” Teresa said as patiently as she could manage.
“Yes, I am sorry, Teresa, it’s just that I am too surprised. You see, Anne Darcy was writing about the Ministry of Education’s projects. I was doing research about exactly the same thing before leaving.”
“Well, it is a coincidence, but I don’t see why it has affected you so much…” Teresa intended to say more, but Elizabeth interrupted her.
“It’s the ‘Security in Public Schools’ program she means to examine. Yes, I remember it had just started then. Look what she writes!” And she handed over the newspaper.
‘Security in Public Schools,’ a program suggested and more than generously financed by the successful businessman John Wickham, claims to be the ideal solution to the huge social problem the juvenile criminality constitutes. Even though we doubted the effectiveness of armed guards in the schools of specific areas, we would be more than happy to acknowledge any positive results. However, the reports seem controversial and we believe that further investigation is required on the subject.’
Teresa looked up questioningly.
“She’s right!” Elizabeth said in a raised voice. “This program continues today, and I checked the reports. The Ministry claims positive results, but according to the police, the condition has deteriorated over the years!” She paused and took a deep breath, preparing to make the most important announcement. “Did you see who suggested and financed the program? John Wickham, Teresa! J.W! He’s the one behind the note! He threatened her to stop her from abusing the program!”
Teresa was astonished and couldn’t utter a word. Elizabeth’s countenance turned as she whispered pensively,
“Not only from abusing… He wanted to stop her from investigating it!”
“What?” Teresa finally asked.
“His son! The scoundrel, he knew! I knew that there was something dark about him! I was just blind, stupid, stubborn and selfish! It was before my eyes!” she cried with passion, ignoring the ssssssssst sounds coming from the passengers around her.
The warning that the landing was proceeding was heard that moment. Teresa shook her head in resignation. Elizabeth caressed her shoulder and whispered.
“There must be something really big about this, Teresa. I can’t explain it now to you. As soon as we land, we’ll take a cab to my home. I’ll leave you there and go and look at the information I had collected.” She spoke with determination, as if she had planned her next moves to the slightest detail. Elizabeth knew what she wanted to do, what she had to do and how she should do it. Teresa now understood why she was so good at her job. Elizabeth smiled and winked at her.
“Sunday or not, it seems that I won’t avoid the office this morning.”
It was half past four in the morning when the first raindrops began to fall. Charles watched the night that was slowly coming to its end from the windows of the central building of Pemberley.Net, a sweet melancholy filling his heart. He had seen the articles and waited for the newspapers to get printed so that he could get a copy and leave. He felt tired, exhausted, and empty. As long as he was planning the revenge, he had something to look forward to, someone to turn his anger and resentment to, something to distract him from the unbearable pain and longing that rendered his chest heavy. But now he was alone to feel the loss of the only woman whom he had loved. He needed her forgiveness. If her love was out of reach, he still needed her forgiveness in order to be able to look at himself in the mirror.
William entered the room and in his dark eyes he saw the tiniest hint of satisfaction. They were both still formally dressed, but their hair had gone wild, they were unshaved and the lines of their faces had become more pointed after that night. They didn’t speak; William handed him the newspapers with an encouraging tap of the shoulder that filled him with warmth that he desperately needed. He looked at his friend gratefully. When had William become so sensitive to the needs of the others? So understanding, so interested in the feelings of his friends? The change was evident and surprising; and so much for the better!
“Do you want me to take you somewhere with the car?” William offered.
“No, I prefer to walk.”
“It’s raining, Charles.”
“Even better. I will wash my sins,” he replied with a bitter laugh that William could totally understand.
“You did well tonight,” Darcy said encouragingly.
“It was time for me to do something right in my life, wasn’t it?”
“You are not going to gain anything by hating yourself for the rest of your life.”
“No, not for the rest of my life. Just for the rest of the month.”
They both chuckled at this and then they yawned simultaneously. Acknowledging that they needed rest, they shook hands and parted.
Charles wandered aimlessly in the streets of London for a while. The rain was really refreshing. As he felt the drops falling forcefully on his skin, the burden of guilt became less torturing; the promise of a new life a bit more evident. Yes, William was right. First of all, he had to forgive himself. He had to allow himself another chance; he had to make another attempt to lead the life he wanted. He had made mistakes, but it was time to gain control over them. This required strength. But Charles Bingley was not the irresponsible man he used to be. Love and loss had given him the sense of right and the determination to defend it. He clenched his fists and inhaled deeply: he knew what he had to do.
Half an hour later, the copy of the newspaper lay at Jane’s door, with a note attached to it:
This is for you. I am not asking for forgiveness yet, I want to be able to look into your eyes when I do it. I will become worthy of your forgiveness, Jane. Always thinking of you.
Charles For the first time in a long time Charles slept with a smile on his face. He would do anything he could, he would humiliate himself if needed, he would wait for a lifetime; but he would become a better man and he would win Jane back.
William entered his house as silently as he could. He intended to go to Georgiana’s room to give her the promised newspaper but after a glimpse in the living room, his plans changed. His little sister sat on the couch, sleeping soundly…enfolded in Alex’s arms. His initial intention was to begin shouting until all of London would hear him. But on having a better look, he couldn’t deny that the picture the couple presented was very sweet. They seemed so content, smiling in their sleep, as if they had found the place they finally belonged. Besides, he remembered that he liked and trusted Alex. So, he crept out of the room, after leaving the newspaper on the table next to the couch where they were sleeping.
He thought of going to his room, but he realized that sleep was impossible now, after all this night’s events. The rain was coming down more heavily, and the night was giving its place to a grey cold morning. Darcy felt that the safety his house was offering instead depressed him at this time. The urge to get out and walk into the rain was irresistible. He didn’t even bother to change his clothes. He put on a warmer coat over his tuxedo, dismissed the thought of taking an umbrella and walked out to the wet deserted streets.
Jason Younge’s words had troubled him, even though he had managed to conceal his emotions. The fact that he, of all people, should know what had happened to his mother, was overwhelming. And he had mentioned Wickham’s name as well... What really existed behind all those hints?
He momentarily regretted that he had turned down the offer. He felt like going to Jason’s house and asking him what he meant, but then he checked himself. Jason was probably lying, in another desperate attempt to save himself. And even if he did know something, William was well aware that he would use his knowledge of the facts for his benefit; distorting, embellishing, or unjustly accusing and then bargaining and blackmailing in order to have the upper hand once again. Even if his whole life depended on what Jason had to share, William decided never to ask him. He would never condescend to owe even the tiniest fragment of happiness to Younge. He would find the truth, alone.
Darcy looked up and suddenly realized that he had reached ‘Meryton’s’ offices. He had walked there without knowing it. But then he felt that he was only deceiving himself one more time. Now he could not deny that the need to be near Elizabeth had been growing the whole night. Even when he watched the interactions between Monika and Jason, anxious about the success of the plan, he was conscious of the longing that had become his constant companion. He desperately wanted to see Elizabeth once again, inhale her sent, touch her, feel her in his arms, and tell her about his feelings He wanted to share with her every important moment and every unimportant detail of his life. But Elizabeth had given no signs yet. ‘God, how much longer is this torture going to last?’ he thought as he felt his strength and faith abandoning him. Tears appeared in his eyes but he kept them back.
He entered the building and walked to Elizabeth’s office. He wanted to touch the things she had touched and loved, sit at her desk, caress her pencils and notebook, and feel her warm presence on her chair. Everything was full of her, as she had given life to the entire place while working there. William gave up the fight. He could not be strong anymore; he could not pretend that he was doing fine when every fiber of his body was crying out her name. He released his tears, as he sat where she used to sit. ‘I can’t live without you, Elizabeth. I can’t’. The mask of polite indifference, the sardonic smile, the self control that he had applied for years, was not at his command anymore. He felt so small and unimportant and completely alone in the world. ‘Where are you Elizabeth? I need you! I can’t go on like this!’
As the tears washed down his face, as he gave way to his feelings, he faced and acknowledged his deepest and well hidden fear: a life alone, a life without Elizabeth was what frightened him the most. As soon as he admitted it, he felt completely exhausted, and drained. This night had been too much for him. His body protested, his mind felt the numbness that comes from crying. Sleep came as the monotone sound of the rain continued.
For how long he slept he didn’t know. When he felt a familiar hand slip through his hair and then caress his face, he believed that he was having another exquisite dream, as it happened whenever he managed to sleep at night. He tried to remain asleep to relish in the sensation as long as possible, to prolong the happiness, the serenity her mere presence inspired. Even though it was just a false picture, even though the disappointment each morning when he woke up was becoming more and more unbearable, those dreams were the only thing that was left from her; that no one could deprive him of. And he clung to those dreams with a torturous mixture of hope and despair.
But this time the hand seemed so real… The voice seemed so real; so wonderful and so real. William thought that his mind was playing games with him only to make him reach his limits. Still, he tried to remain asleep. He didn’t want this to finish so soon.
“Will…Will…” The caress and the voice persisted, even though sleep was evading.
Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. A gasp escaped him at what he saw. He couldn’t still be dreaming; and yet could this be true?
Yes, it could. The feeling of her fingers on his cheeks was real. Her wonderful eyes were more beautiful than he remembered or had ever dreamt. Eyes that were looking at him with such tenderness, it took his breath away. Her image reminded him nothing of the last time they had met; when she had thrown the ring back to him, announcing that they were over with a coldness that paralyzed him. He looked at her, as she was leaning gently over him and he was lost in her eyes and he recognized there the person that he had fallen in love with. The person he had made love to, the person that he had given his body and soul to. The woman he had come to love more than his life, the woman he needed in order to continue breathing. The picture she presented was so much better than what he had ever hoped to behold; and it was real.
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