Many times during William’s press conference, Elizabeth felt the urge to attack her TV screen. She could sense some journalists’ wish to trap him in any way possible: to unnerve him, to make him lose his patience, to take advantage of his weaknesses and ridicule him, humble him or both. The hostility that no one had dared to show when he was on the top, was now displayed in many former friends’ faces. She was disgusted and angry. But she also knew very well that these were the rules of the game.
William however stood dignified, strong as a rock and ready to repel all the ill-natured attacks. Elizabeth noticed his cool, detached countenance. He is wearing his armor, she thought and gained a little strength.
“Mr. Darcy, it is clear now that your father committed a crime for which he was never punished. How would you have reacted if he were still alive?”
Damn the stupid, insensitive rascal who asked this! Who was it? Oh yes, Gilson! The idiot who hated Darcy for not hiring him at Pemberley.
Her mother squeezed her hand and Teresa whispered to her.
“Have faith in him. He can make it.”
Elizabeth thought that it was somewhat surreal to see her mother forming an alliance with Teresa; she was grateful for the support all the same. She smiled faintly, as she waited anxiously for William’s reply.
“Mr. Gilson, my father is dead. I agree with you that he committed a crime, which causes the same degree of indignation to me as it does to you. As his son, I had the chance to witness that he did possess humanity, but obviously he was not strong enough. It is neither my intention nor my wish to attempt to justify him or his actions.”
“Have you forgiven him?”
The cad! He persisted!
“My forgiveness is of little importance. I was not the victim in this case.”
“Won’t the Darcy name be a heavy burden for you to carry?”
Elizabeth swore under her breath. All the journalists continued the questions in Gilson’s manner.
“I am not ashamed of who I am.”
“So, you’re still proud of the famous Darcy family tradition?”
“It depends on which aspects of this ‘tradition’ you are referring to. I am proud to be the son of Anne Darcy, who never changed her name. However, I admit to being shocked when I discovered the truth about my father – and I beg you to remember that this was only a few hours ago. However, if my feelings or my family’s ‘tradition,’ as you call it, were more important to me than the truth, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you, ladies and gentlemen.”
“What are you planning to do with Pemberley, Mr. Darcy?”
“Pemberley is neither a man’s creation nor a man’s property. The fate of the corporation cannot be decided in a day, or solely by one person. I can talk only of my hopes. But I can assure you that the members of the board and I agree on values, aims, and priorities. I am proud of what Pemberley now represents. I am proud to be its CEO. I will continue to be, as long as I will not be asked to compromise my beliefs to keep my position.”
Fanny clapped instinctively and Elizabeth leaned over and kissed her spontaneously. Mother and daughter smiled at each other, acknowledging that they had at least one thing in common: their adoration for William Darcy.
“He is very, very handsome, Lizzy,” Fanny said with genuine admiration. Elizabeth nodded, feeling unexpectedly embarrassed. “Oh yes,” her mother continued, oblivious to Elizabeth’s slight discomfort. “Perfect face, perfect angles – such eyes! The chin, look at the chin!”
“Mother!” Elizabeth hissed.
“Oh, she is right.” Jane decided that her sister could bear a little more teasing. “And we can never forget the voice.” Charles coughed but Jane whispered to him. “There is only one face and one voice that I care about. I think you know whom they belong to.” Fanny, of course, had not heard Jane’s clarification and went on singing William’s praises.
“Oh, yes, the voice. Such a deep baritone. Like flowing honey, isn’t it?”
“Oh,” Elizabeth’s cheeks were crimson red, and she was torn between laughing, censuring, or ignoring her mother. She turned a pleading face to Teresa in hopes of finding some understanding, but her hopes were shattered by the amusement on her friend’s face. “You are not letting me hear what he’s saying,” she said sullenly in the end.
Charles’ cell phone started ringing and Elizabeth heaved a sigh of relief as she and her gorgeous man stopped being the center of attention. Charles, to his very bad luck, made the mistake of picking up the phone without looking at the ID.
“Hello? Oh Caroline…” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “What? Can you lower your voice, please? Yes, I knew…don’t shout at me. No, nothing is over…What’s your concern anyway?”
“Her intended proved to be a bit too conscientious for her.” Elizabeth whispered to Jane and she giggled.
“No, Caroline, I did not warn him…No, I am supporting him in this. I don’t care what you think… Have an apoplexy if you like. I told you, I don’t care about your wretched plans. Are you trying to make me feel sorry for you? I don’t know…Don’t scream – go out and find another millionaire.” Then, looking at Elizabeth and regaining some of his good humor, Charles continued: “I had told you it was a waste of time, Caro.” He smirked. “No, I don’t think this will make Will suffer too much… He was never yours. Belonged elsewhere from the beginning… Thank you, I hate you too. Bye.” He hung up and winked at a pleasantly surprised Jane.
“Well, I must remember to announce Caroline’s decision to Will when I see him next…” He said feigning contrition.
“Which is?” Fanny was certain that she didn’t like this Caroline a bit.
“Let me recall the exact phrasing…She doesn’t want to have anything to do with a loser like him.—That’s what she said.”
Fanny felt very relieved that Caroline didn’t represent a danger. Jane wanted to ask Charles if there had ever anything between his sister and William, but was afraid to do so in Elizabeth’s presence. Charles however read the question in her eyes.
“Of course she never had anything with him… At least not in the real world… I am ashamed to think how many delusions my sister has.”
Jane, despite her innate goodness, discovered that she liked this harsh-but-just side of Charles’ personality quite well.
Elizabeth redirected her attention to the press conference.
“Did you have any suspicions about what was going on?”
“None at all, I am afraid. I owe everything to a journalist Pemberley has the honor to employ. She has insisted and persisted despite the discouragement and the threats she received. Without her efforts and her self-sacrifice nothing would have been achieved.”A small, private smile formed on his lips; few people among his audience were able to discern it and even fewer could decipher it. “Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to express my gratitude to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Everyone in the sitting room simultaneously turned their gazes to Elizabeth, waiting for her reaction. However, she didn’t trust herself even to look at anyone, much less to speak. Her mother, naturally, could not bear to be passive for long, so she grasped her daughter’s shoulders almost violently and cried: “My Lizzy, you are famous! You are famous!”
“She has been a well-known and respected journalist for quite a long time.” Charles offered softly.
“Yes, but now her name is mentioned on TV!” Fanny exclaimed triumphantly, confirming that certain things about people never change.
The press conference was heading towards its end.
“What will happen to George Wickham?”
“I contacted the police as soon as I learned of this. I believe they are in search of him as we are speaking, if he has not been already arrested. I trust that the justice system will give him the punishment he deserves.”
“Don’t you personally feel a need for revenge?” Gilson asked again and Elizabeth imagined how he was planning to trap William.
“Mr. Gilson, I believe I was very clear in defining Pemberley’s present leading values as well as my beliefs. But I will repeat them for your benefit. Unlike my predecessors, I trust the institutions. I want nothing more than justice.”
“So, Mr. Darcy it seems that you are above the elementary human need for revenge.” The journalist’s tone was clearly ironic.
“I am very proud that I am above primitive instincts, Mr. Gilson. This incident is finished as far as I am concerned. I simply provided the police with all the clues I could find, not repeating my father’s omission – his crime as you rightly called it.”
“And now talk if you can, you ugly, evil, pig-headed ass!” Fanny exclaimed vengefully, and Elizabeth found her mother’s description of the annoying Mr. Gilson very accurate – and very much to her liking.
William sat amidst the buzz, the lights of the cameras, the cries and subdued whispers of the reporters, the photographers, the employees and stared at everything and nothing. He had finished, finally; he had found out and revealed all the secrets. His life’s mysteries had unraveled before his eyes and the questions that had tortured him for years had received answers.
What was his reaction to such an important transition? To these events that were taking his life and career to a whole new level? To the possibility that Pemberley could close forever? He had to force himself to think about all this seriously, because suddenly everything seemed very trifling and unimportant; almost ridiculous.
William Darcy had allowed his foolish pride and his foolish misconceptions to blind him, tangle him in a conspiracy that he had unwillingly supported all these years. He had thought that he was wise and held all the answers; that he could decide what was important and what was not; that he could judge and condemn; his father, his mother; people he didn’t really know and had never cared to learn more about.
He had remained in that detached ‘throne’ of his for years, above feeling, above weakness, above love. He had refused to say the word love, hadn’t he? Oh yes, he now recalled better. William Darcy did not believe in love. A chuckle escaped him; it was bitter. He had thought that he knew better than the rest, hadn’t he? The masses, the daft people who trust utopias and chimeras, hadn’t they always been his first object of contempt? Open, displayed, disgusting contempt. What kind of god did he think he was, inventing and exorcising thoughts and feelings?
Have you forgiven him?
Poor Gilson, he was trying to get a statement from him; to show the rest of the world how arrogant this Darcy was. Gilson knew it; everyone sensed it. No one had ever told him to his face, but that didn’t change the fact. What had William’s intelligence really served then? Making him appear a real fool. A haughty, cold fool. Gilson was so close to the truth that it hurt. The echo was screaming in William’s mind:
Who are you to forgive?
Damn, I don’t know! I don’t have the answers! I don’t know what happened; and I may never learn. My father could have been a scoundrel, a coward, a self centered husband or simply an indifferent man. I never cared to look better. And now he’s dead! Dead! Who was he? Who was my mother? Strangers… They are strangers to me; I never tried to change that.
Then it was clear; but this time was harder than he had expected.
You have to forgive yourself.
He had never faced such a task before. Maybe he was too busy condemning the others. Or perhaps…Could it be possible that he had spent thirty-four years of existence punishing himself? He had been refusing his own self-comfort and affection. He had lived alone in his cold kingdom, content with the belief that he knew better than the rest. Then he laughed again, at himself.
You won’t feign the martyr now, Darcy, will you?
It wasn’t easy. There were no simple answers; his favorite, when business was concerned, drastic measures were not at hand this time. He was disoriented; lost.
Then Elizabeth’s face appeared out of nowhere. It was teary, despaired and angry. He had seen that face in the past, if only he could recall when.... He gasped, as he realized where the vision came from. It was the day he proposed; the day he made one blunder after the other. The day he had been more horrible than ever in his failures, making her go. She had told him that they were over. But what had she said before?
“I love you Will. Make me stay.”
She had loved him, even then. He could not think of his behavior without shame or abhorrence on that night, but she loved him. Where had she found that strength? The courage to say the words, to look him in the eye, to fight a battle that was lost? When everything went wrong, when she felt betrayed, and insulted and hurt, she still made an effort to keep what she knew was precious to both. She could see the beauty when surrounded by ugliness. She could see the good in him, and bring it out. No, she didn’t hold all the answers. No, she was not simply a means of relief. Besides, at that moment something had broken in her; he had heard it in her voice. He had sensed her despair and he could feel her world as it was collapsing. Now she needed support and devotion, so she could learn once again to trust and love.
This time, however, it was not a fight she had to wage by herself. She needed him as much as he needed her. They had all the time they wanted to face the challenge.
Lost in thought, William had not realized that he was being accosted by his relatives. They still could not relax after what happened. So, they were trying to release the energy accumulated in them during the night by talking in a very lively manner. He heard Alex praising his sister, and then Richard’s laughter.
“Sweet to us, but to her enemies…She’s more like her brother than I had thought. Cousins, I don’t think anyone will ever try to harm you again. Especially you, Anna – you really surprised me. ”
“She’s not the only surprise of the day,” Monika said quietly. “I could swear that you were another person this morning when we visited your parents.”
Richard turned and looked at her in a way that made his cousins feel like intruders.
“Perhaps I have changed,” he said softly.
Monika was ready to answer, when Michael interrupted. “Yes, son, you have changed. I used to think you were completely incorrigible.” Richard choked. “Now I have changed my mind… About the completely part.”
William only nodded, barely registering parts of the discussion in his mind, which was occupied elsewhere. He decided to excuse himself. Georgina had been stronger than he would have imagined, proving one more time how much he had underestimated the woman his sister had become. He decided that he would not lie to himself any longer. It was evident that his little sister was not in need of him anymore. She could be a loyal friend to him, supporter, counselor; his equal and not the frightened, vulnerable little girl he always considered her. He looked forward to this development of their relationship.
It was not his sister who needed him by her side; it was Elizabeth. He wanted to get to her side as soon as possible. Before he could leave the group however, another man came close. It was the inspector who had been put in charge of the case. Fatigue was evident on his face, making him appear much older than he actually was. A great number of tiny wrinkles surrounded his eyes, and dark circles appeared underneath them, proving that, like almost everyone who had remained in the room, he had gotten very little sleep that night. However, a faint smile lit his face. “We’ve got him,” he announced in a low voice. “Wickham is under arrest.”
No one spoke, and every hint of a smile disappeared from their faces. William’s eyes must have been darker than usual, Richard’s fists were perhaps clenched, and Georgiana did not manage to control the trembling of her jaw as successfully as she would have liked; but, otherwise, no one betrayed any real feeling to the news. Wickham’s arrest seemed to be the final act of the play. However, it was too soon to judge the outcome.
Alex first broke the silence, proposing to treat everyone with coffee. Only Georgiana accepted the offer, and they took leave of the rest, arm in arm, Georgiana’s head leaning slightly on his shoulders. The rest watched them go with a smile. Michael likewise departed, accompanied by his loving wife, whose anxious eyes had not left his face throughout the whole morning.
Richard turned his anxious eyes to Monika and said simply,
“You are exhausted.”
“I could use some sleep,” she answered, adding with something akin to tenderness, “So could you.”
“Go home, you two,” William said, trying not to smile too openly.
“Won’t you come with us, Will? You do not look very well, you know.”
“No, it’s ok. You know I won’t be able to relax until I have talked with Elizabeth. I’ll see you later. And, guys... Thanks. Thanks for everything.”
“He’s coming by,” Charles announced after hanging up the phone.
Elizabeth could hear her heart thumping.
“Why didn’t he call me? Is anything wrong? Oh, Charles, why didn’t you pass him to me?”
“Calm down, Elizabeth,” Charles said reassuringly. “Nothing is wrong; you will see that for yourself. He didn’t know if you had woken up yet and he will be here in a few minutes. Which reminds me, the rest of us are leaving.”
Paul opened his mouth to protest, but one meaningful look from Teresa and he changed his mind. Jane started collecting her things, but Fanny remained rooted to the spot.
“Mum,” came Jane’s pleading voice.
“Just give me two minutes with Lizzy. Wait for me in the car, please.”
Strangely, her earnest tone convinced the others who relented to her request. As Paul was leaving, he spoke again, hesitatingly:
“In case you need anything, Elise…”
“She will be fine, Paul, let’s go.” Teresa stopped him from turning back.
Elizabeth sat staring at her mother.
“A good woman, Teresa, isn’t she? I like her very much,” Fanny commented nervously. She probably noticed Elizabeth’s astonishment, because she added, almost apologetically, “She will make your father very happy.”
“To think that I wanted you to marry Collins!” Fanny exclaimed afterwards.
“Mum, are you ok?”
“Yes, yes, quite alright. Look, Lizzy, we haven’t that much of time, and there are so many things I want to say…”
“We can talk another time...” Elizabeth offered.
“Would you like that? To have a long talk with me sometime?” Fanny sounded anxious.
“I’d love that, mum.” Elizabeth smiled.
“You are a good girl, Lizzy. I always wanted all that was best for you. But you were so…different… I never had any idea what was best for you.” She looked at her hands. “I thought marriage would be good. That’s why I insisted, but…” She paused, unable to continue for some moments. “Never mind, just promise me that you will forget that I ever suggested Collins to you, ok?”
Elizabeth nodded; bewildered, amused, touched.
“However, and even though I know that ‘the mother’s instinct’ was not very… right in your case, I do think that this man is the best for you. He is rich, of course…”
“Mother!” Elizabeth sighed.
“No, I didn’t mean that. It’s good to be rich, of course; however…The best part is that he loves you. He has done everything to… to… save you.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to speak but closed it again.
“Too cliché, the saving part, right Lizzy?” Her mother smiled knowingly. “Anyway, he called at least twenty times and even asked to speak to me. Can you believe that, Lizzy? He wanted to ask me if I, as your mother, thought that you were sleeping peacefully.”
Elizabeth had a really hard time imagining that conversation; but she would not doubt her mother’s words now. There was tenderness and sincerity in her voice. It whispered to her heart, easing her fears, making her feel cared for and loved. As for William, her whole soul was craving him now; she couldn’t wait for the moment she could see him again, and tell him everything that had been pent up deep with within her.
“So, Lizzy, I guess we’ll talk another time. But I wanted you to know all this. Call me when you feel like it, ok?”
“I will, mum.”
“We’ll be at Jane’s now. I called Charlotte; she’ll join us there. We’ll… No, you are probably not interested in our lunch plans.”
Elizabeth silently agreed. Fanny opened the door, but before she left, she turned back.
“Oh, Lizzy, I almost forgot. He must be exhausted. You know you must take care of him, right?”
Elizabeth had not enough time to ponder over the whole exchange with her mother, as her doorbell rang again less than five minutes later. Her initial anxiety, which the conversation with Fanny had temporarily sent away, came back full force, making her heart beat faster and faster. Her mind seemed ready to explode and it felt like she had lost the ability to command her limbs. Her fingers had a moment’s trouble with the handle before she managed to finally push the door wide open.
He stood there, well dressed, clean-shaven, and as charming as he had appeared in the interview. However, the seemingly confident but detached look she had witnessed on the screen was now replaced by a darker, more intense gaze, intended for her only. He watched her carefully, not even smiling, not coming close; he was giving her time, space and the chance to decide what she wanted, what would be the best for her.
The accentuated corners of her face worried him; she had clearly not recovered from the ordeal of the previous night. He knew that this time, he had to be strong for both of them. He had to start; he had to be wise for her sake. He wished with all his heart that he knew how he could take care of her best; how he could make her move past the event that had marked her; how he could convince her to trust herself and make a new beginning, with him.
But suddenly she was there, in his arms, clinging to him as if her life depended on him, burying her face in his shoulders. He needed no more strength; no more reassurance. Elizabeth in his arms was all the incentive and all the reward he ever wanted, for all the fights of his life. He stood still, just holding her, as she tightened her grip on him. The feel of her body against his was heavenly; it worked its unique effect on him, answering his needs but giving birth to more urgent desire; sweetness that turned to fire, fire transforming to tenderness and then fireworks: that was what Elizabeth was. He felt he could stay there, with her, forever. A few moments later, however, he forced his mind to work and he picked her up, placing her decidedly on the couch, where he sat by her. Her face was still hidden in his shoulder and her voice came muffled, but his ears could never fail to distinguish her words.
“I thought I would lose you; lose you, Will.”
“I am not going anywhere. I am here, Elizabeth. With you, always.” He kept repeating. The moment that he heard Elizabeth’s voice, still holding the echo of insecurity and despair, all his doubts and fears vanished. He knew what he had to do; he knew what was best for her. Embracing her even more tightly, he whispered words of love and reassurance in her ear; words, sounds and caresses invented for her, special and unique; a profession of perfect devotion that only she could hear and understand.
His confidence had its affect on Elizabeth. She felt everything finally fall in place. Despite her exhaustion, physical and mental, she could feel the hope for a new life that was taking shape that very moment. What Wickham had killed inside her was slowly coming back to life. A tormented spirit, shattered beliefs, trust and love, everything that used to give meaning to her existence were now waking up again. Slowly, but surely.
William loosened their embrace and pushed her back slightly, so that he could look into her eyes.
“Let it go, my love. Let it go. Cry. I am here.” His hand moved across her face and then dove into her hair adoringly. His eyes were soft upon her, watching the flow of tears in her eyes which would not stop. His movements were unhurried; his face was telling her that she would have as much time as she needed to heal.
She made an effort to check herself, but to no avail. Sobs overtook her as she attempted to speak. William’s hand moved to her lips, silencing her. “I understand, Liz. Don’t rush yourself. We have all the time in the world.” Her eyes met his instantly; it was the first time he had called her Liz. It felt familiar; once more, it felt right. Each moment that passed, the bond between them became stronger. She surrendered to her emotions; with William she was free to be herself, he helped her find and understand herself. She was not afraid that she would be swept away in the flood of feelings; Will was her anchor, which brought steadiness to her life and at the same moment took her to the skies.
“It’s ridiculous,” she finally managed to say, smiling through her teary eyes. “I am weeping here while I am… happy.”
His lips curved a little, and then more. A smile formed slowly on his mouth, then spread to his eyes, giving them light and removing the traces of fatigue.
“Are you?” The smile was evident in his voice too.
“Yes. You are here, and you know the truth and I don’t have to…to do what I had to.”
“Decide?” he suggested.
Her face suddenly turned grim. “Will, only the truth between us, right?”
“Only the truth, my love.” His hand resumed stroking her hair.
“My decision, Will, was…”
Once more his fingers were on her lips.
“Hush, Elizabeth. I know what it was. There is only one way the woman I love above my own life would react to such information. You wouldn’t be my Elizabeth if you decided not to reveal the truth.”
“Now, you are my Elizabeth and I certainly hope that you consider me your William.”
She moved her face closer to his, until she could feel his warm breath on her cheeks. His eyes were not leaving hers, inquiring, as her lips lingered upon his. They were ever so soft, but teasing, tantalizing; barely touching him and then making an attempt to leave. However, he moved fast, and he captured her before she could withdraw. Nipping her lower lip, tenderly at first but then more and more passionately he worked hard to make her lose herself. And, exactly at the moment when she wanted him to invade her, to taste her until she had memorized each and every small part of his mouth again, he drew back and smiled wickedly.
“You pass, sir,” she said with mock graveness. “You are truly my Will. No one toys with me like this and gets away with it.” Her hands slipped around his neck and then moved to his back, pressing him tightly against her.
“I am very relieved to hear it.” He did not return her teasing tone; he seemed very serious and Elizabeth could detect the slightest hints of insecurity.
“Did you ever doubt it?” She moved back and gazed at him with such tenderness he thought his heart would stop.
“You know, I am not such a good catch anymore. My influence is by now non-existent, I guess; Pemberley may close soon and my name is almost disgraced. I think that you would be very much justified to reject me now.” He said with a smile, trying to make light of it, but she still had the impression that something was hurting him, so she replied very earnestly.
“I was a fool to ever hurt you, Will. But I was never enough of a fool to stop loving you. I can safely promise that I will never be so stupid as to let you go.”
His hands cupped her face, bringing it to the same eye level as hers. “Good,” he said almost inaudibly, “because I have no intention of moving from your side.” His lips brushed hers lightly. She felt a completely irrational embarrassment, as if they were starting anew. She giggled nervously and he chuckled. “Is it tears or laughter, Miss Bennet? Can I cause no other feeling?” He lifted an eyebrow. Her lips parted as she tried to answer but he took advantage of her reaction to invade the silk depths of her mouth. She felt completely free to surrender to him and then reciprocate, assaulting his senses with a passion she had always checked before. There was no more reserve, no questions, no reasons why she should step back, why she should not show him what he meant to her; what importance he had obtained in her life. There were no more impediments. They had faced the maliciousness of the world and had learnt to trust themselves and each other.
Her mouth had taken fire as she was both exploring and being explored, conquering and conquered at the same time. She was surprised to feel his touch in parts, corners, secret places she had not known she possessed before that moment. His soft moans proved that her effect on him was similar, but she was too lost to hear them, as was he. His hands moved across her cheeks, every finger a spring of liquid fire. Suddenly, they located the wound, still so fresh. There was a battle inside him, reason against surrendering to passion. But his reason, supported by his worry for her prevailed. With a final groan, he retreated. They sat facing each other, taking deep breaths. They had completely neglected the need for air in the haze they had abandoned themselves to.
His attention returned to the wound on her cheek. He looked at it carefully for a moment, seemingly puzzled; then he understood.
“My love, how much pain…” She didn’t let him finish.
“It doesn’t matter anymore, Will.”
“Yes, it does. My mark on you… It was I who tortured you last night, Elizabeth.”
“No, it was the fear that I would lose you,” she answered simply.
“It’s my fault. I didn’t make you feel…” Her lips placed a feathery kiss on his and again, she stopped him.
“No, no. Listen to me, Will.” Her palm stroked his cheeks. “You changed my world so completely, so irrevocably, so magically that I have never deemed possible. Yes, I was devastated at the prospect of being parted from you. But even at that hour of utter, absolute despair your mark was there.” His fingers were still on her wounded cheek. Her palm covered his, pressing it against her face even harder. “I tried to remove it, scratch it. I couldn’t do it Will, for you’re far deeper in me than a mark on my skin. Stupidly I have denied it, but it is true. There is nothing I can do about it, but… There is nothing I want to do about it.”
His lips were everywhere at the same moment; her brow, her cheeks, her nose, her earlobes, her own lips, her jaw, her neck, brushing every part of her in kisses, whispering I love you against every molecule of her skin, until she was all burning with his marked professions. She surrendered to the wonderful sensation he evoked, thinking that nothing in her life had ever felt as right as her love for William.
His lips returned to hers again. Before taking them on yet another wonderful journey, he whispered:
“You make me happy.”
She lost herself in his kiss again, the echo of that simple phrase playing again and again in her mind, making her heart want to smile. Tangled in the passionate vein, she could not speak. Her hands caressed his shoulders and then, with the uppermost tenderness, moved up to his neck and massaged it softly before they attacked his hair, earning another low moan from him. She drew back to look deeply into his eyes, before saying:
“I love you, William. Above anyone and anything.”
“How can I return such a gift, my precious girl?” He whispered, caressing her shoulders.
“Love me back.”
“You know I love you; more than life, Elizabeth.” His answer should not have shocked her, but his earnestness sent shivers down her spine. She regarded him closely, to remember exactly how he looked on one of the happier moments of their lives. Their beginning. Only then did she notice that his eyes were almost red, and the dark circles underneath them became more evident. The passion was there too, and he was probably trying too hard to be strong. Elizabeth remembered her mother’s advice about taking care of him and, for the first time in her life, marveled at its wisdom.
“Alright, Will, you have won me.” She smiled at him.
“And what a prize you are…” He mumbled as he leaned in to kiss her again. His passion was creating more and more desire in her. Her body was aching for him; was begging to be his, to belong to him, forever. Her hands, out of their own will, moved to caress the nape of his neck, then they loosened his tie and undid the upper button of his shirt. A groan escaped him as he felt her fingers invade the flesh of his torso. They were losing control, again. And this was not what she was aiming at. With great effort, she pulled back and commanded her hands to obey her and leave his perfect chest. To reward them, she allowed her fingers to entwine with his. Their contact filled them both with warmth, a short preview of all the glorious paths of intimacy they could explore together. She smiled.
“The prize has a request of its beholder.”
“The beholder could never deny his prize anything.” He answered gallantly, stroking her thumb with his, creating such intense feelings with such a simple move that she feared she would become distracted again. She wanted him, at that moment. But this was special, she could feel it. And her instinct told her to wait. She looked at his tired face and saw the tiny wrinkles behind his dark gaze. Tenderness for him became the only feeling she was aware of. Her decision was not difficult anymore.
“Sleep in my lap.”
“I beg your pardon?” Clearly, he had not expected this.
“Will, loving someone is also about knowing what they need – better than they know themselves.”
He smiled knowingly. “Do I look that exhausted?” A trace of guilt appeared on his face.
“Yes, you do. I want to take good care of you. Mum’s orders.”
He chuckled. “I thought you never listened to your mother.”
“That was before we found a very strong, common point.”
“What is it?”
“That we both adore you.”
“Have I told you how much I like your family, Liz?”
She was not sure if he was speaking in jest or not.
“Really,” he continued, “all of them. Even Jane, who, let’s face it, has rather hostile tendencies towards me.” They both burst out laughing.
“Ok, you are not getting away with jokes, clever boy,” she said as soon as her mirth would let her. “Sleep, and I will be here when you will wake up. I won’t stir.”
“And no… attempts to persuade you to change your mind will work?”
“Oh, believe me. It will take very little effort to convince me to do anything if you look at me like this.” He leaned in to kiss her, but she moved her head and his lips caressed the line of her jaw. It was enough to make her voice tremble slightly as she added: “But you love me too much to oppose my will.”
He smiled resignedly. “That’s not playing fair.”
“And the way you kiss is fair?”
“I could say the same of you.” She pouted and he chuckled. “Alright, alright, I’ll do as you wish. But I warn you, Liz. When I wake up, I will be a very rested man.”
Elizabeth’s heart started beating wildly at the implication, but she chose not to show it. However the smug look on his face proved that he could read her feelings far too well. They adjusted their position and he lay encircled by her body and arms. His features relaxed; the tiny wrinkles vanished and the lines on his face showed to their best advantage. But suddenly, his jaw tensed and Elizabeth noticed that he had clenched his fists. He opened his eyes and spoke.
“You do know that I lied during the press conference, don’t you, Liz?”
“You lied?” Her voice came strained.
“Yes.” He stated firmly. “About Wickham. The truth is that I will beat him to death if I have a chance.”
She made no reply; the wounds were still too fresh and she didn’t want to go back to that memory – not yet. She was tired of this circle of pain and revenge, but strangely, his words did not upset her. On the contrary, she found shelter in the very madness of the idea.
“I will never, never let anyone hurt you as much as he did, Elizabeth.”
“I know, Will. Now sleep,” she whispered.
As he closed his eyes, a small smile remained on his face. It was the same smile she wore as she watched him until she fell asleep as well.
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