Elizabeth entered the familiar building soaking wet. She had left her house so hastily after making sure that her father and Teresa were comfortable there, that the idea of taking an umbrella simply did not cross her mind. Elizabeth stood at the entrance, water dripping from her coat, her shoes staining the perfect carpet on the floor. At first she felt guilty, but then a mischievous grin appeared on her face. After making a mental note to apologize to the cleaners later that week, she headed for her office, heart full of excitement. She had missed everything. Even those hideous paintings on the hall, which she had tried so hard to persuade Charlotte to change, seemed to be welcoming her that morning and felt certain that she could not have waited another day to return to that place she had come to love so dearly. Not even another hour, in fact. Her heart began to race as she approached her office; then it stopped.
She recognized him instantly. The body, the shoulders, the arms…They could belong to no one else. It was him. He was sitting in her office and he was…sleeping? She came closer. There was a wet coat thrown on another chair. He wore a formal black suit and white shirt. His arms lay on the desk and his head was buried in them, his face hidden from her. She could only discern the fine line of his brow, where some unruly damp locks fell. Elizabeth listened to his rhythmic breathing; he was fast asleep.
Surprise was her first emotion. What was he doing at ‘Meryton,’ in her office, on a rainy Sunday morning? It made no sense at all. She shook her head and stopped trying to understand. Nothing was simple or rational where the two of them were concerned. Could it be possible that he felt the need to be near her as badly as she was longing for him? She was filled with a wave of tenderness for this man, who could make her happy with his touch, his look, or his mere presence. She leaned over him and ran her fingers softly through his hair, the caress he had always loved, the caress she had been longing to offer him all these weeks while she was miles away. A weak groan of pleasure escaped him, but she was certain that he was still asleep. Elizabeth didn’t want this moment to end. She could go on watching and caressing him forever, listening to his breathing and to the gentle tapping of the rain on the window. But she could not fight the urge of speaking his name, in a low whisper.
It was more like a loving statement than an entreaty; however he stirred and moved his head slightly, his eyes still closed. Elizabeth felt as if she had received a blow to the chest upon discerning the dried tears on his cheek. Her hand moved instantly to his face and stroked the skin under his eyes, the five o’clock shadow of his cheeks, the line of his jaw, while she still murmuring his name; softly, tenderly. He blinked once and then shut his eyes with determination, as if he was trying to cling to his previous state of sleep. Her fingers remained on his face, caressing him lovingly. She spoke again, in a low voice. Her face had come very close to his and her breath warmed his ear.
Then he opened his eyes. He didn’t startle or move back. He lifted his face slightly, as she removed her hand quickly. He said nothing; just stared at her. Elizabeth wished he would smile; or at least talk, or do something. But he did nothing except gaze at her. It seemed that hours passed in this way, even though it could not have been more than a few seconds. His look rendered her uncomfortable, as if he was demanding answers, as if he was searching her heart and piercing her soul. Still, she managed to meet his gaze and keep the warm smile on her face. Uneasiness or not, she was really happy to see him again. If only he would speak…
“Elizabeth.” His deep voice flowed like honey and filled the room.
His hands, strong but tender, took hold of her face. He pushed her gently back, until she stood up, with her back to the desk. A rush of momentary disappointment hit her when they lost contact. But then, he rose and came closer, taking her face in his hands again. A roll of thunder was heard far away. White light filled the room for an instant, while the tension between them was reaching a point neither could bear. And before she realized what was happening, his lips were attacking hers.
His mouth, hungry, pressed forcefully upon hers, while his hands moved around her back and brought her even closer to him. She was not resisting; but she was not responding either. Her mind was in a haze and everything was happening too quickly for her to think. Her passiveness made him cling to her with despair, as if his life depended on her. Dominating, he asked permission to taste her. Elizabeth’s lips parted slightly, mostly by instinct than by her will and he eagerly accepted the truce. Making a sound that seemed a stifled sob, he invaded her sweet wetness, with the urging of his long restrained love.
As he endeavoured to lead her in a maddening passo doble of flesh, images of their past began to haunt him. Their first kiss; hesitant, sweet and ever so promising…Their first night together; he thought he could never stop making love to her; that he had found where he belonged. The night they had gone to a deserted lawn and watched the stars, staying embraced for hours after being consumed in their passion… The moments, looks and gestures at the office; small but ever so precious tokens of love. Their weekend in Scotland; their kiss on the hill, their talk by their fire, her smiling eyes, her voice, their lovemaking that night…
But, these were memories, only memories of a past lost forever in a hypnotizing mist. He had to return to the present and face his aching heart, for she was still not responding to him. He continued his lonely, demanding exploration, when other images invaded again, this time only to increase the unbearable sorrow, driving him to his limits. Their fight over Wickham, the estrangement, the cursed dinner… He fought against those thoughts and instinctively his hold of her became tighter, as if he tried to unite their bodies, as if he was dying and she was his source of life. And yet she was still impassive. He thought of the ring, as she took it off her hand. He remembered her parting look... “We’re over, Will.” Something broke in him. Maybe the allusion in the note to Jane was exactly what he feared the most. Perhaps there was another man; perhaps he had acknowledged his feelings too late.
Breathless and disappointed, he was ready to retreat, when he felt her touch on his face. Velvety fingers caressed his cheek, soothing and encouraging. His heart began beating wildly, as her hands moved around his neck, holding him tightly against her. She wasn’t letting him break the kiss; she wasn’t letting him part. Slowly, unhurriedly, softly, she opened to him and met his passion with equal fever. Her lips, the gates of his paradise, were inviting him to conquer them. The flavours of her mouth had never tasted so exquisite; never before had he felt that she was giving herself so completely to him, nor that he was totally surrendering to her mercy as well. She was revealing and healing his wounds at the same time, pouring away all the bitterness that had poisoned him. She was burning him only to revive him the next instant. He could not part with her, not now, not ever. The need for breathing didn’t seem vital anymore. She was his air, his oxygen, the force that sent the blood through his veins. As he sensed her whole body melting against his arms, only one thought remained in the haze that clouded his mind. ‘Ambrosia, the food of gods, could not taste better than her at that moment.’
Their lips parted slowly, brushing leisurely against each other. Elizabeth nestled in his arms, keeping her cheek next to his, in an attempt to prolong the contact of their skin as much as possible. William relished in the felicity of their union, trying to digest all this happiness that had crashed on him from the moment he had opened his eyes. But then he remembered that he had to speak. He wanted no shadows or doubts hanging around them anymore. Placing a soft kiss on her temple, he whispered in her ear.
“Elizabeth, please tell me we’re not over.”
He sensed her smiling, as she nodded silently. He needed more than that. Stepping back, he took her face in her hands, until his eyes could look deeply into hers, to find there the truth, the love, the reassurance he needed. And he did find it, his own feelings mirroring in the black depths of her eyes. When he spoke his voice was tender, but firm and determined.
“We are not over. We cannot be over.” Then as his index finger travelled down her neck, he smiled slightly, never breaking eye contact with her, and said in his deep voice:
“I love you.”
It seemed to Elizabeth that every letter of this short phrase was a section in an orchestra that produced the finest melody she had ever heard in her life. She didn’t startle, she didn’t even blink. It seemed that the tiniest reaction of hers would disturb the harmony, the beauty, the serenity that was enfolding them, binding them together. She only gazed at him lovingly for a few moments, letting his words flow between them and fill the space with their sweet gravity. At last she smiled.
“You said it.”
He chuckled softly. “It took me some time, didn’t it?”
She began to find her old playful tone as she asked, “To feel it, or to admit it?”
“I’ve always loved you Elizabeth. Always. I can’t remember my life before loving you, so I guess there was nothing important in it before that.” “Hey, you met me at thirty-four!” she reminded him, trying to sound amused in order to conceal the lump in her throat and the tears that threatened to appear in her eyes.
He kissed her lightly on the lips. “So much time lost…You have to make up for not coming into my life earlier, Elizabeth.”
Her look became serious again and he guessed that she was thinking of the time they lost after they met.
“It’s all my fault, Elizabeth… I was stupid and blind and almost lost you. I tried to hide my feelings, to deny the importance you had obtained in my life. I almost drove you away permanently. I loved you back then, Elizabeth. When you asked me to say it and I didn’t, I did love you. More than I had ever thought possible. But I could utter the words only after I felt that I had lost you. Can you ever forgive me for that?”
She looked with adoration, not caring to stop the tears that were now freely flowing down her cheeks. He swept them off tenderly with his palm.
“Don’t cry, Elizabeth, please… No more tears on my account. I can’t bear to be the cause of more of your tears.”
She looked at him with bright eyes.
“Can you ever forgive me for running away, Will? For leaving you when you needed me the most? For repeating the mistakes of the past? It’s not me who has to forgive and forget, Will. It is you.”
“When I look at you,” he said caressing her brow and then her hair, “I can think of nothing but the happiness you have given me, without asking, without expecting anything from me. What is there to forgive, Elizabeth? I really can’t remember.”
She smiled warmly and reached for his lips. There was not suspense, nor anxious demands for reassurance burning them anymore. They tasted each other, again and again, offering and taking, feeling protected and secure; knowing that they were not alone in the world anymore. Soft moans of pleasure escaped them both, delighting each other, as they discovered anew the wonderful sensations they shared together. However, after a few seconds, Elizabeth drew back abruptly. William searched the answer on her face, and was relieved to see her mischievous look.
“But, Will, what do you mean you could not say the words until after I was gone? When exactly did you utter them for the first time?”
William smiled sheepishly.
“Oh, that. Well, I must admit that there are some people familiar with my feelings for you.”
She was clearly astonished, but she didn’t seem particularly displeased.
“Some people?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Six people. Your sister is one of them,” he said, looking at her like a child who had done something very naughty. But upon her making no response, he turned very serious, took her hands into his and said:
“I know, Elizabeth. I am a pathetic lover, telling everyone except you. I have no excuses. I don’t. I guess that by admitting that I loved you back then I managed to endure your absence, not knowing where you were or if you would be coming back. I had to admit my love during those weeks, because it was the only source of hope, the only reason to wake up in the morning and go through a day when I had no chance of seeing you. I beg you; don’t let this come between us.”
Tears appeared in her eyes again and he really grew worried. But then she shook her head reassuringly and a little laugh escaped.
“I have become too melodramatic today, Will, haven’t I? No, I am not letting this come between us. You are too lucky, sir.” She said with fake seriousness and he chuckled, very relieved. “You make me too happy to notice these details.”
He kissed her brow, saying: “Seriously, Elizabeth, I didn’t…”
She interrupted him immediately. “Seriously, Will, I was not there to listen to the words. I left. Don’t make me angrier with myself than I already am.”
“Excuse me, Miss Bennet, but I am not letting anyone be angry with the woman I love,” he said gallantly as his lips captured hers for another passionate kiss.
“She is a lucky woman then.” Elizabeth commented, half dazed, her eyes closed.
“The woman I love? Oh, believe me, she deserves it.”
“But Will, how is my sister acquainted with your feelings? She doesn’t even know mine!” Elizabeth brought them both to reality.
“She knows what your feelings are, Elizabeth,” William said with a devilish smile. “
Did you tell her?” she asked, wanting to know the whole story.
“Madam, you offend me! That would have been very indiscreet of me, would it not?” he cried in mock indignation, enjoying the genuine surprise that spread over her face. And then, leaning over her, he whispered seductively, “You told her, Elizabeth.”
“No,” she protested firmly and strongly. “I most certainly did not.”
“Yes you did, but I am afraid that the liquor didn’t leave you with any memory of it.”
Elizabeth was officially speechless.
“Alright, alright,” he said embracing her tenderly. “I think it’s time for you to listen to a Christmas story. It’s called ‘The beating and humiliation of William Darcy.’”
“Beating?” she asked, quite shocked.
“Patience, my love,” he replied cryptically. “You will learn everything. But we must take a seat first, for it’s a rather long story.”
“Will?” she said weakly, as she found herself trapped in his arms. “
Yes?” His voice betrayed his contentment.
“How am I to sit, if you keep me here?”
“Well, of course, you will sit in my lap,” he said as he sat in the chair he had fallen so miserably asleep in only a few hours ago, pulling Elizabeth with him so that she finally rested on his lap. “Did you have anything else in mind?”
“I love you, Will. You and your mysterious ways. Now, speak!”
Georgiana was in such absent-minded felicity that morning that she could not prepare a proper cup of coffee. At her first attempt, she added four spoonfuls of sugar when she intended to pour none. At her second, she filled the cup with milk while preparing black coffee. When her third effort was proved to be an equal failure, the reason of her distraction, Alex, kissed her lightly on the cheek and volunteered to go and buy coffee and croissants for everyone. Georgiana accepted his offer with gratitude and sat on the couch reliving in her mind their romantic night, while waiting for him. She had noticed the newspaper on the table, and had read titles like “Acts of brutality at social gathering” or “Monsters behind polite faces” with perfect indifference. Her thoughts as well as her heart, were full of Alex. The handsome, romantic, gentle, tender and passionate man that had come to stay in her life. She barely remembered having met anyone by the name of Jason Younge.
Her pleasant musings were interrupted all too soon by the quick steps that were heard descending the stairs. A moment later, Monika appeared. Georgiana prepared to greet her with a shining face, but her smile was immediately replaced by a questioning and then worried look. Monika used to be the rock for them all; always the calmest, the voice of reason, the one who did nothing hurriedly. And now she stood in the hallway, agitated as she had never been before, with the lines of her face accentuated by some evidently strong emotions, and her hands playing nervously with the overnight bag that she carried in her hands. Georgiana forgot to say good morning, and just stared at her. Monika broke the silence, speaking in a low voice.
“Isn’t Alex here?”
“No, he just popped off to get us some breakfast.” Georgiana could not help sounding excited about it. “He’ll be back very soon.”
Monika shook her head dismissively. “No, I haven’t much time. He’ll wake up at any minute,” she said pointing upstairs, at the rooms. “Just tell Alex to call Phil to replace me. I’ll be gone for a couple of days.” She reached the door, without looking back. Georgiana stopped her before opening it.
“Wait!” Georgiana called at her. “Why are you running away?” she asked in a lower, calm voice.
“You cannot begin to imagine how complicated things have become in one night,” Monika answered, while her jaw was slightly trembling.
“So it has finally happened,” Georgiana said, shaking her head. Meeting Monika’s surprised look, she added, “You are not the only one who has insight into people, you know.”
Monika nodded resignedly. “Yes, it has happened. And I have to disappear as soon as possible.”
“But why? You are adults, you surely…”
Monika interrupted her with a sad look and a firm voice. “Look, Anna, I have been there. I have seen this play hundreds of times. I was outside his hotel room night after night, when he….he… he was spending the night,” her voice wavered a bit at this point, “with every woman that responded to his ridiculous flirting.”
“Now, you know that you exaggerate,” Georgiana tried to offer some solace, even though she suspected that it was the least Monika wanted.
“No, I do not exaggerate. I have planned his escapes from these situations, when he called me in a voice full of panic and asked me to save him from romantic mornings. So, I am doing him this favour. I am disappearing all on my own.”
“You are not asking him what he wants now. You just assume.”
“Yes, but I know what I want,” Monika answered with determination. Georgiana thought that she was being extremely stubborn, but then the other woman reached for her hand and squeezed it affectionately.
“Hey, I am not leaving forever. Just taking a two-day vacation without consulting anyone. This is very like me, you know.” She winked at her and Georgiana smiled.
“By the way, Anna, I am really happy for you and Alex,” Monika said closing the door behind her. Georgiana smiled as she was left alone in the hall, thinking how clearly love must have been written on her face.
Less than a minute later, Alex entered the house, looking surprised.
“I think I saw someone leaving as I was coming, Anna. Who could it be?”
Georgiana opened her mouth to speak, but the noise of doors banging upstairs and then feet running down the stairs stopped her. Richard appeared, half naked, with an expression on his face that was really difficult to decipher. It could have been guilt, or anger, or despair.
“Where is she?” he shouted.
‘Perhaps Monika’s right hook has seriously injured the Don Juan in my cousin,’ Georgiana thought and then she replied calmly, addressing mostly Alex.
“It was Monika that you saw leaving. She will be gone for a couple of days.”
“Fourteen days. Only fourteen days.” Charlotte sighed resignedly.
“Charlotte, it’s your wedding, not your execution that we’re talking about!” Jane said good-humouredly but her meaning was clear: ‘You chose him, we tried to dissuade you, we said that we would support and accept any decision you made, so don’t cry like a spoilt baby now.’
“Yes, my wedding.” Charlotte repeated dryly and then a sick look spread across her face. Jane grew worried and caressed her back gently.
“My dear, you can always change your decision.” She smiled. “If the prospect is so disgusting to you…”
“No, no.” Charlotte stopped her abruptly. “It’s just morning sickness. Can I use your bathroom?”
While Jane was waiting for Charlotte to return, she wondered if her nausea was due to the baby or to the prospect of marrying Collins. She didn’t dwell on the subject too long however. It was true that on this particular morning she could concentrate on no other subject than Charles Bingley. His note was on the table, as if daring her to read it once more. What for? She had learnt it by heart, as she had done with the extraordinary articles that the newspaper he had left her contained. She could not imagine how Jason had lost his control at a public gathering. And beating was not like him. He may have had millions of weaknesses, he was unjust, selfish, and partly violent, but he had never beaten her. And now, everyone was accusing him of the only thing he had never been: the symbol of domestic violence. Despite her kind character, Jane could not help smiling at the irony. Compassion for her ex-husband was out of question.
The clearer her sentiments for her ex-husband became, the more complicated her feelings towards Charles turned. She remembered the open, flirtatious and easy way during the first weeks of their acquaintance with pleasure. When she thought about Scotland and their night walk, the only time they were open to each other, something stirred in her. She could not define it, she could not account for it, but it definitely resided in her heart, there was no denying that. But the catastrophic Saturday morning followed, when he had made her feel cheap and stained, like Jason used to. She had decided not to think about him anymore, but their meeting on Christmas day had occurred unexpectedly. He was still unjust and mean to her back then, but his behaviour on that day didn’t inspire anger. He was broken, yes, she could feel that. After the revelations, he had retired in a corner and never met her eyes again, not even for a parting look. Jane had been so worried for her sister afterwards that she didn’t have time to think of him again. Then she had to help her mother to recover from the shock of Charlotte’s wedding. Her reaction had been very violent in the beginning, and poor William Lucas was still mourning for the three extremely rare and expensive vases that her rage had broken into hundreds of pieces. Now she was helping Charlotte with the preparations, watching the bride’s ill mood and morning sickness. All in all, she had been through some trying weeks, but at least she had managed to get Charles out of her mind. However, after what he had done last night, she could now think of little else. Striking Jason for her sake, defending her reputation in front of the most intimidating members of London society and even threatening her ex-husband to stop his lies once and for all… She could still not believe that this had really happened, even though the full report left little room for any doubts.
And how was she supposed to feel? Anger, betrayal, gratitude, or…what? He wasn’t asking for forgiveness yet she remembered, he wanted to say it in person. She longed for and dreaded the prospect at the same time. And when exactly did he mean to come? Would he do it during the course of that day? Her limbs felt weak at the thought. No, no, she assured herself, it was certain that he would let a day or two pass. Maybe even a whole week.
Then the doorbell rang.
With flushed cheeks and not a steady hand she opened the door to see him standing there, leaning on the wall, with a look at least as embarrassed as hers. A little smile curved his lips when he saw her.
“Hi,” he said hesitatingly.
After a few moments, very difficult for both of them, he spoke again.
“May I come in?” Charles asked with such a vulnerable look that Jane knew that whatever her feelings for him, they were certainly not negative.
“Yes, of course…Excuse me. Please come in and sit.”
After a few seconds of painful silence, he took a deep breath and started speaking.
“After what I have done and said I am not entitled to shyness. I hope you have read the newspaper.”
Jane only nodded. She felt completely incapable of commenting in any way.
“I did not come here to boast about it. Actually, I have done nothing to be proud of. Jason wouldn’t need any punishment if there were not people like me who believed his … stories in the first place.” He said with a look of disgust, while Jane swallowed with difficulty.
“Last night, after what had happened…we met him again, privately. He…he called Monika a…” his voice was trembling “a slut.” He managed to finish the sentence and made a gesture with his hand, as if dismissing a painful thought.
“It was frightening, Jane. Frightening because he reminded me of me. He sounded like me. ” His fingers ran nervously through his hair, as he continued. “What did I do differently? First of all, I believed his account, while I knew you and not him. I believed him because my stupid, selfish, narcissist ego found in his series of wicked lies a satisfying explanation for the reason why you were not begging me to be with you. I didn’t betray only you and my promises to you by believing Jason, I betrayed myself as well. I sacrificed the most precious and tender feelings I ever had in my life for the sake of the confidence in my charms…What kind of self-esteem am I entitled to after that?” His voice betrayed despair, pure and sincere despair.
“And it’s not only that. I’d wish it was only that, because then I’d just have stayed away from you, keeping the pretence of formal politeness between us, and the true punishment would have been mine and mine only. But, no, the spoilt boy had to have his way, showing that he was not to be trifled with, that no woman had a right to prefer others to him.” A bitter laugh escaped him and Jane, who had been listening to his admission in shocked silence, was almost tempted to reach for his hand and squeeze it. She remained still however.
“What right did I have to protest? What right did I have to complain? Why should I be displeased, even if everything was true?” He spat in a raised voice. “As far as I was concerned, you were a free woman, you had made no promises to me, you had never lied to me, never talked about your past; what right did I have to judge? Even if Jason was the cheated husband, it would have been between you and him. Why should I come here and ask to bestow justice?” He looked at her with his huge blue eyes and her heart was deeply touched.
“Even if you were the cold hearted shrew Jason described, I would still have had to beg for your forgiveness. You see, I was not much different than that picture before.” He sighed. “Yes, I never actually married, but when did I respect my constantly changing partners? When did they respect me?” He buried his face in his hands, but when Jane moved towards him, he raised a hand to stop her.
“No, no, please. Not your compassion. I’d feel even more ridiculous than I already do.”
“You are not ridiculous, Charles,” Jane replied softly. “You are…” she paused searching for the right word, “brave.”
“I don’t think so, Jane.”
“Yes, you are,” she stated firmly. “I don’t know many people who would admit such hard truths about themselves. Personally, I would be terrified to do so.”
“You have no hard truths to admit about yourself.” Charles reminded her, smiling sadly. “And I do feel terrified right now.”
“There is no reason for this. I am not so very vindictive, you know.” Jane smiled sweetly.
“No, but you are the woman I love.” His voice was low, but steady and his eyes were looking directly into hers.
Jane’s eyes widened in surprise. She certainly did not expect him to speak of love. Not now, not yet.
“I am not asking you to answer this.” Charles understood her astonishment and seemed embarrassed. “But it’s true, Jane. Even if I treated you the way I did, even if I said all those horrible things, I loved you then and I love you now. I thought you would want to know.”
Jane could still not find anything to say.
“I acted irresponsibly and loved you in a wrong way. Like Jason. He did love you; I know that, I saw that. But not enough, or perhaps in a distorted way. I am afraid that I am the same pathetic sort of man. For this reason, I am not asking you to love me back…Not yet.”
“Charles, what exactly are you telling me now?” Jane asked, perplexed and with traces of annoyance in her voice. This man was confusing her, reminding her both of precious moments and ugly experiences of the past.
He nodded understandingly and smiled sadly. Then, looking directly in the eye, he said steadily,
“I am telling you that I am really sorry for everything I’ve thought, and said, and done. And that I am asking for your forgiveness. I am begging for your forgiveness. And that I would consider myself very lucky if we were on friendly terms again; or at least if I knew that you didn’t hate me anymore.” He looked at her expectantly.
“I don’t hate you anymore,” Jane answered simply.
“Thank you.” He continued holding her gaze. “I am not asking for anything more. I deserve nothing more…” He paused and then added cautiously: “At present.”
“At present?” Jane found sources of boldness inside her that she never thought had existed. “You mean that you will ask for more in the future?” ‘Why am I asking this? Am I willing to give more in the future? Am I forgiving him too easily?’
“At present, Jane, I am certainly not worthy of anyone’s love.” She attempted to interrupt him, but he didn’t let her. “No, please. I do not hate myself, don’t worry on my behalf. I just do not know who exactly I am. Am I this cruel sexist who attacked you, or the one who loves you so much and wants nothing but your happiness? Honestly, I don’t know, Jane. But if I am pleased with the answer, I am not giving you up. Even if I will have to wait forever.”
Jane’s mouth was agape. She had never expected that her meeting with Charles would turn into such a revelation of his deepest fears and hopes. She had hoped for nothing better than a dry “I am sorry, because the stories were not true.” But now, what could she answer to a speech like this?
Sounds of stifled sobbing brought her back to reality. She looked at Charles who seemed as surprised as she was. Then, turning her face to the other end of the room, she saw Charlotte, who was leaning in the doorframe between the living room and the kitchen, with tears streaming down her face.
“Oh, my God,” Jane cried as she got up and hastily moved to her, with a look of guilt and apprehension. “Charlotte, I am so sorry…I completely forgot about you! Are you ok? What happened?”
“Nothing,” Charlotte managed to say between her sobs. “I am fine, really. Didn’t want to interrupt you, so I stayed here and…” she took a deep breath and continued: “listened. Oh, Jane that was so sweet!”
Jane’s face must have turned crimson, as she glanced apologetically to Charles, murmuring: “Pregnancy has made her very sentimental” or something to this effect anyway, but Charlotte demanded her attention as she collapsed into her arms, crying in a shrunken voice:
“Bill can never say such sweet things to me… He can’t even think of anything romantic.”
Jane was not paying any attention to her words. She was moving her hand up and down Charlotte’s back, trying to appease her.
“I want to live something like this too!” Charlotte suddenly shouted.
“Trust me, you don’t.” Jane and Charles spoke together and a chuckle escaped them both. But Charlotte didn’t seem to be listening to them. Her eyes shot wide open, as a sudden realization struck her. She moved away from Jane’s embrace, clenched her fists, swept her tears, lifted her face and said with determination.
“I deserve something like this.” The other two shook their heads resignedly. “I am not marrying Bill Collins!” she announced proudly.
The incessant ringing brought him back to consciousness, slowly, teasingly, playing with his nerves and senses. He opened his eyes and grabbed the phone that stood on the nightstand.
“Yes?” he growled.
A panicked voice answered him. He interrupted the other man before he had the chance of speaking more than three words.
“You stupid idiot, I told you never to call me on this number!” he hissed.
His eyes shot open, adrenaline beginning to alert all his nerves, quickly, taking the last trace of sleep away from him.
“What?” He never lost his calmness, nothing could shake him. How bad could it be this time?
“Younge spoke up, sir.”
“Younge did what?” He thought he had misheard. This could not be happening. Not now. Not after all those years.
“He dropped hints to Darcy.”
“What?” No, he would not lose his temper now. He had everything in control, for years. A vindictive boy who had not learnt his lesson could not threaten him.
“Darcy’s people humiliated Younge in public and he tried to save his reputation by offering to provide Darcy with information.”
“Did Darcy accept?” His heart beating wildly.
“No.” The answer made him breathe again.
“Who heard?” He felt as if he had everything under control again.
“Darcy, Bingley, Fitzwilliam-the actor, he is, you know, Darcy’s cousin…”
“I don’t care about his family!” he spat. “Who else?”
“A woman. Never seen her before. Sir, we were lucky that one of our men happened around and heard…”
‘Think quickly. Act quickly.’
“Go to Younge. Silence him…”
“Silence him? Sir, that could raise suspicions...”
“Just make sure that he won’t forget his lesson this time… We’ll take better care of him after some time has passed.” ‘As we have done before.’
“And after you’re done with him, put him in the first plane for the U.S. The English climate makes him act dangerously stupid.”
“Is that all, sir?”
“No. Follow Darcy. Do not lose him from your sight. Make sure that he will not meet Younge. Ever again.” ‘I’ll do anything that is needed to make sure of that.’
“We are already doing this, sir.”
“Good. Where is he now?”
A pause. Then a hesitant voice. “Meryton’s offices.” “Damn-it!” ‘This is not good. He is moving quickly. Has he combined the clues?’
“And Elizabeth Bennet has just joined him there, sir.”
‘Bad, this is turning really bad. I didn’t like her in the interview. Something in her eyes…She is too much like the other.’
“The journalist? You had told me she had left the country not long after my interview!”
“She must have just returned.”
‘Ok, do not panic, do not panic… It can be a coincidence. How could these two have possibly figured everything out so quickly? Calm down, damn-it! ‘
“Do not lose sight of either! And I want a full report every half an hour. Send three men to Younge. Remember, you must be very discreet.” His voice was cold, impersonal. ‘Nothing serious is happening.’
“Of course, sir.”
“And do not call me at this number again! I am activating the other as we’re speaking.”
“I am waiting for the report. Go now.”
“Bye, Mr. Wickham.”
He felt his blood pressure reaching dangerous heights.
“For God’s sake, do not say my name!”
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