Charles Bingley was not from Scotland. His house there was not the old family manor. He had visited the area once and had fallen in love with its natural beauty. He bought the first available house without much thought. Caroline had disapproved his choice at first, declaring that she would never go near that ‘cottage’. Later though she saw it as an opportunity to throw big parties and show off. She decided to redecorate the house and add a few facilities, such as a big swimming pool. When she had finished, the house had lost its old magic and its ability to make Charles relax. It became Caroline’s ‘dear child.’
The whole party arrived at Scotland on Friday evening. Elizabeth, as well as Darcy, had had a very busy week due to the approaching elections. When they finally entered the house they wanted nothing more than go to bed and have a long, wholesome sleep. However, Caroline had other plans. She grabbed Darcy’s arm and insisted on their all taking a tour of the house. Charles grabbed Jane’s arm and joined in his sister’s request. Tony and Louisa had disappeared at the mention of it. Elizabeth wished she knew how to disappear too, but was obliged to follow the two ‘couples.’ She gritted her teeth.
The interior of the house showed that Caroline had a lot of money but not much sense of harmony. She had tried to combine super modern and traditional elements, but such an effort required a taste superior to the one she possessed. Elizabeth would have found it very amusing were she not ready to fall asleep. Finally, they finished their exploration and Elizabeth thought that the trials of the day were over. But, as she started dreaming of her pajamas, Caroline said, “Are you ready for dinner?”
'Dinner? God, I had forgotten about that!' Elizabeth despaired. Darcy looked at her and read her thoughts.
“Caroline, we are very tired now. Perhaps we can pick something from the kitchen and then go to bed.”
“The dinner that I have prepared for you, will wear all your tiredness off!”
“The dinner you prepared for us?” William thought he had misheard. Caroline never cooked. Or did anything useful.
“The dinner I told my cook to prepare for you.”
“That makes sense.” William whispered to Elizabeth. He had somehow managed to be at her side during the tour. Elizabeth tried hard not to laugh at the whole exchange. Caroline resumed, “It’s going to be lovely! I won’t ask you to change into more formal attire. Simplicity is the key word, wouldn’t you agree Elizabeth?”
“Since we are denied the luxury of rest, simplicity in dinner is the next best thing.” Elizabeth said and gave her the sweetest of her smiles. It was William’s turn to suppress his chuckles.
Caroline thought that she saw the two of them exchanging amused glances. ‘Maybe I got tired as well,’ she thought and led them to the room they were to have dinner.
The ‘simple’ dinner consisted of not so simple plates and lasted for over an hour. By the time it had finished Caroline felt really tired and proposed that they retired. Everyone agreed. Before leaving the room, William whispered to Elizabeth, “I have suppressed my tiredness for so many hours that I don’t feel tired anymore.”
“Care to join me by the fire place in ten minutes time?”
“Which one? For, I must say, Lady Caroline has many fireplaces.”
William chuckled and gave her very detailed directions, so that she would not lose her way in Lady Caroline’s palace.
Elizabeth returned to the fireplace ten minutes later, wearing her pink pajamas and having an adorable smile on her face. She looked very excited, like a little girl that had just disobeyed her parents’ orders to do something she really wanted. William smiled as he saw her. He was sitting on the floor, by the fireplace, and he invited her into his lap. Elizabeth sat there comfortably and just looked at him. They remained silent for a while, their eyes locked. They lost track of time, enjoying the warmth and safety their contact offered to both. After a while William’s eyes darkened and Elizabeth instantly whispered, “Talk to me, William.”
She had no idea why she had said it; she didn’t know if there was something he wanted to share with her. She just asked because that seemed the natural thing to do.
“It’s strange,” he answered with a voice that resembled nothing of his usual self. “Why on a night like this remember her? It’s over twenty years now…”
“Your mother?” Elizabeth inquired softly. It was the first time William mentioned his parents.
“I don’t want to talk about it—I don’t want to think of her. I just want to forget her—as if she never existed.”
“I was just a boy and I needed her—so much. And she left us, without a word, without a second thought, without ever looking back. Just a note to my father. Four lines for a life, for a husband, for two children—Georgie was not even four, for God’s sake!”
“I don’t know why! I don’t care to learn why! There is no excuse for what she did to us! She destroyed our childhood; she destroyed our lives! It’s her fault and nobody else’s.” William’s voice was broken.
“My father left us too. But it was not his fault. My mother practically made him leave. She betrayed him. She told him that she preferred another man. His friend, their neighbor! Just because he was richer and easier to understand and handle! I know that my father couldn’t do anything but leave. He had to restart his life, somewhere far away from painful memories.”
“You are wrong. Whatever your mother has done, she stayed with you. Your father left. How could he betray you? How could my mother abandon me?”
“My father never stopped loving me!” Elizabeth protested.
“Right, loving from afar. The promise so easily made; the coward’s way out!” he spat.
Elizabeth lifted her head to look at him.
“Did he contact you, Elizabeth? Answer me!”
“He sends me some letters…sporadically,” she finally admitted and broke eye contact with him.
“Why are you so ready to forgive him?” he asked, trying to make her look at him, his tone much softer now.
“Why are you so ready to hate her?”
“She didn’t care for her own children,” William stated simply.
Elizabeth smiled sadly and quoted: ‘Love does not end just because you stop seeing each other.’
William smiled at the remembrance of the film they had watched recently and repeatedly at her apartment. Conversation became lighter:
“I’m definitely not letting you watch The End of the Affair again.”
“I thought you liked it as well as I did.”
“Perhaps I did like it,” William admitted. “Not as much as you did, of course. That would be impossible. But it seems that Sarah is a bad influence.”
“She was right though.” Elizabeth said weakly as she felt she was drifting off to sleep.
William didn’t answer immediately. He just looked at her. She smiled and closed her eyes. Soon enough she was fast asleep. The knight that William hid deep inside him awoke and he carried her in his arms. He took her in her room and left her gently on her bed. He covered her with the blankets and when he was certain that she was warm and comfortable, he placed a kiss on her forehead and whispered:
“Maybe she was right. But I don’t want to stop seeing you, Elizabeth.” With that, he left the room.
Saturday morning was very cold. Elizabeth found it very refreshing and decided that she would explore the surroundings even if no one wanted to accompany her. She went to the living–room and asked if anyone cared to join her. Tony and Louisa were so absorbed watching cartoons on the television that they didn’t even bother to answer. Caroline was arguing with her desperate cook, giving orders that couldn’t possibly be performed. Charles, in an inspired attempt to win Jane’s admiration, was showing her every collection he had made since the age of eight. Elizabeth wondered how his childhood treasures had ended up in a house that he had bought as an adult. Then she looked at Caroline who was shouting: “I want strawberries! Find them now.” Her cook was repeating: “But, Miss Bingley, it’s late November.” “I don’t care!” ‘I think I know who had the idea about the collections’, Elizabeth thought. ‘I only hope that my poor sister will skip the old family photo albums.’ William Darcy had received an urgent call about business at seven o’clock in the morning. He went upstairs with his laptop and hadn’t stopped working since. Elizabeth set off all alone and not too unhappy about it.
Charles’s house was built on a hill near the sea, but it didn’t offer any view to it. Elizabeth walked until she had reached the top of the hill. From there she could see the waves crashing on the rocks below. The wind was strong and cold. The silver grey sea seemed ready to devour the shores. ‘An ancient battle,’ she thought. It goes like this for years and years. Humans are not needed here. Somehow, this gave her peace. She closed her eyes, just sensing and feeling. Harmony, serenity… Happiness perhaps? ‘I could be happy here.’
She heard steps approaching but she didn’t move or open her eyes. Someone touched her shoulders. She knew that touch. She needed it. Her eyes still closed, she whispered, “Don’t take me back to reality, Will.”
“I just want to take you in my arms. May I?” He whispered back.
She was lost in his embrace and warmth. The moment was magical. Nothing mattered. Neither the past nor the future. They were together that moment and they were happy. Both of them. They could not account for it but they could not deny the sudden joy that overwhelmed them. Elizabeth opened her eyes and they looked at each other, smiling.
“This doesn’t get any better, does it, Will?”
“Oh, yes it does.”
With that, he took her face in his hands. He looked at her for another long moment and then brushed his lips on hers. She sighed with expectation of more. He began kissing her. He was very gentle at first, but then their passion was released and the kiss became a confession of love and need. Since they could not utter the words, they chose another way to show their feelings. His hands were going up and down her back, sending shivers to her spine. Hers were caressing his hair in a way that drove him crazy; their mouths never parting, but continuing to explore and to give. That kiss was about giving, not taking; making the other happy, not thinking of themselves. It was the first time they both experienced what it truly meant to be united, to be part of another. They couldn’t break it because they couldn’t stand the loss that would bring. When their lips finally parted, they remained embraced for a long while, comforting each other. They were unable to speak or to think. They were able only to feel.
****** Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday dear Charlie
Happy Birthday to you!
“Oh, that was so out of tune!” Caroline laughed.
“I preferred it last year, when you brought the opera singer, Caroline,” her sister smiled at the memory.
“Really Louisa?” Tony inquired. “You said that it had bored you to death.”
Fortunately, Charles had eyes and ears only for Jane and he was spared his sisters’ ridiculous exchanges. Elizabeth found the whole situation highly amusing and wondered how on earth she had ever felt jealous of Caroline. William had a very strange expression on his face, which resulted from his efforts not to show his mirth too openly. Caroline was trying again to bring the conversation to her advantage.
“Only William managed to sing it faithfully!” she said with eyes full of admiration.
“Caroline, you exaggerate. We’re talking about the ‘Happy Birthday’ song here,” Darcy stated simply.
“Oh, but your talent cannot be hidden. You have a voice without fault,” she continued, while Darcy began to feel uncomfortable with this constant praise. Elizabeth came to his rescue however, replying very gravely,
“That is absolutely correct, Caroline. And I am glad that only Mr. Darcy’s voice is heavenly. Otherwise the ‘Happy birthday’ songs would be so faultless that they would inevitably become boring. In cases like this, you know, perfection can be a fault indeed!”
Caroline opened and closed her mouth without being able to articulate any words. She didn’t like this Elizabeth Bennet, not a tiny bit. Somehow she turned all her efforts to seduce Darcy against her. She was not jealous of her, of course. She never discerned anything on Darcy’s part to give her alarm. But as for her… She really couldn’t make out what she was thinking or feeling. One moment she was teasing him and the other moment she was looking at him, and there was something unusual in her eyes. Caroline could not recognize what exactly it was, but she didn’t like it. She decided to put up with her, though, as Darcy clearly respected her work. And, since Darcy admired her, so would she.
She returned her attention to the party and noticing that William wasn’t eating the piece of cake she had handed him, she exclaimed:
“Our cook has really outdone herself with this absolutely tasteful dessert. She even tried to find some strawberries, as the recipe suggested, but I talked her out of it. It’s late November after all!”
Elizabeth thought that she heard a noise from the kitchen, but she couldn’t know for sure as she was concentrating on keeping a neutral look. Caroline was oblivious to Elizabeth’s reaction and she announced that it was time they took a picture to remember that weekend. Both Elizabeth and William thought that they could never forget those days but they’d love to have a picture to treasure as well. So, though generally not very keen on being photographed, they showed no resistance this time.
The poor cook was called to help them. Charles and Jane stood in the middle as Darcy and Elizabeth found themselves as far away as Caroline could manage to have them. She grabbed Darcy’s arm and sent Elizabeth next to Tony and Louisa. However, she could not make them not look at each other. Elizabeth, happy and peaceful and very much in love was positively glowing. The moment the cook was taking the picture William looked at her. His gaze was tender and a soft smile curved his lips. His look spoke of love and passion, but nobody could really decipher it. The picture was forgotten for some time.
After the ‘party business’ was over, Charles walked Jane to her room. At the door, he hesitated. He didn’t want to say goodnight; not yet. He had spent a wonderful day by her side and he wanted to make it last forever if possible.
“Jane, would you like to see…” He was about to say “the old family albums” but suddenly he understood Jane’s attitude. She was not placid; she was bored but too kind to let him know.
“Oh, my God, Jane, I am so sorry.”
Jane startled. She wondered if she had voiced her thoughts and felt momentarily embarrassed. But Charles took her hand in his and the sudden, unexpected electricity of the contact made her forget her uneasiness.
“I am the most selfish man in the world, Jane. I was having such a good time in your company, that the thought that I might have bored you to death never crossed my mind… Collections and photos! Nobody would have born it as well as you did. I swear I will never listen to Caroline’s advice again.”
Jane laughed softly at his look of pure exasperation. “It was not so very bad, Charles.” As his look only became sadder, she added in a conspiratory tone, “I was happy to be in your company, even if I have never been interested in miniature cars.”
Charles gained courage with this. His heart was beating faster and he looked at her intensely.
“I will do this right, Jane. I want to and I will. Come.” He gave her his hand.
Jane followed him without knowing where they were going. She was not feeling like her usual self that night. Something was happening to her; something that had not happened for years. Her mouth was dry. She thought that she was losing control over her body. It reacted in a strange way in Charles’ presence. Her heart could not return to a normal beating; her hand, oh she tried so much, but her hand simply refused to leave Charles’; she had no idea where her legs were taking her; her breath became strained; she was under a spell.
Charles took her outside, for which Jane was grateful. She really needed the cold air on her face. What she actually needed was a cold shower, but there was no way she would admit such a thing to the man who was standing next to her and had awakened old feelings. It was so long since a man had had such an affect on her that she didn’t recognize the symptoms. She was still under the impression that love did not exist. Had she tried to name what was happening to her, however, only one expression would have been adequate: falling in love.
They walked for some time, hands entwined. They reached a beautiful spot, under a tall tree. It was Charles who broke the silence.
“It was here where I fell in love with this house. Everyone says that I bought the first one that was available. Perhaps this is true, but without this spot, it wouldn’t have been so special to me. You know, it seems that I am the only one that can find my way here. I am never disturbed. I have always been alone and peaceful. Now you have come with me.” He smiled. “And this is good.”
Jane was unable to say anything, but it was of no importance. She wouldn’t have known what to tell him, even if she could speak. Charles continued. He was used to making declarations and promises, but now it was different. It was sincere. It felt as if he were opening and pouring his heart into hers. And for the first time the utter fear of rejection took hold of him. He was revealing his inner thoughts, his true self to someone and he dreaded that Jane wouldn’t like what she saw in him.
“Jane, this is not a game. This is not some trifling whim of mine. I may not give that impression, but I know myself very well. And I know that everything changed the day that I met you. I will not make promises; I will not say that I love you, if you are not ready to hear it. But I will wait. I was not a patient man, but patience does not seem difficult where you are concerned. You deserve so much, Jane.”
Jane already had tears in her eyes. When Charles told her that she deserved his patience and much more she knew she could not keep them any longer. She had forgotten how it felt to have a man striving for her affection. She had forgotten how to explore her own feelings, how to express them. She wanted to protect herself, she couldn’t face another blow. At the same time she wanted to protect and reassure Charles. He seemed so vulnerable, so sincere and sensitive that she wanted to do everything in her power to make him happy.
“Charles, I don’t know what to say.”
He had expected her reaction but could not help feeling disappointed.
“I just need some time to… to…oh, I don’t know. It’s just that I am not ready. Please understand me, Charles.”
She seemed like a little girl trying to make amends for having done something wrong. Charles smiled and whispered to her, “I do. I’ll be right here Jane, waiting.”
They were close and his lips touched her ear and her cheek as he spoke to her. She began trembling. Charles realized that she needed to feel safe, so he embraced her and hold her in his arms for a long time, repeating:
“Don’t worry my sweet Jane. I can and will make you happy.”
In the meantime, William and Elizabeth were silently praying that the rest of the party would retire soon. Tony and Louisa were sitting in front of the television watching the most boring programs they could find, but Caroline was giving her full attention to Darcy, no matter how little willing he was to receive it. He exchanged desperate looks with Elizabeth and the fifth time Caroline began talking about his fine estate in Derbyshire, he winked at Elizabeth and announced that he was very tired. Caroline was a bit disappointed that she had not had the chance to praise his sister too, as she had originally planned, but she concealed it admirably. She bid him goodnight with a smile which was supposed to be charming and heartfelt, but unfortunately she was not that good an actress. Afterwards she went to bed as well.
Elizabeth wondered what she should do. Obviously William had some plans for the night and she was not at all opposed to the idea. Quite the contrary… But Caroline’s room was—incidentally—next to his and she half suspected that the woman would make things difficult for them. Before quitting the room they had spent their evening in, she cast a look at Tony and Louisa. They had fallen asleep with the television on. She turned it off without waking them and walked to the hall. She passed in front of William’s room and hesitated. Suddenly the next door opened and Caroline appeared wearing a very revealing nightgown. On seeing Elizabeth she laughed nervously:
“Oh, I heard the…errrr….thunder and was so scared! Are you all right, my dear? I wonder how darling William is faring.” Elizabeth did not find it amusing. Alright, she was one of the most annoying persons of her acquaintance and her chatting was insupportable, but the nightgown was very revealing; and Will was only human. So, she answered very coolly,
“It’s not even raining, Caroline.”
“Oh, there has been no thunder? How strange! I am sure I heard something.”
Another door opened.
“Perhaps it has been my snoring, Caroline.” William smiled at Elizabeth and gazed at Caroline with contempt. “I do apologize, Caroline. It seems that I have caused you great distress. I’ll go to another bedroom. After all, you have plenty on the next floor. Is not that right, Elizabeth?”
“Perfectly so, sir.” She smiled at him, now highly amused with Caroline who was on the verge of fainting. “Actually, my bedroom is the only one occupied and there are three rooms on the floor.”
“This is very good news, Elizabeth. Caroline, I am relieved that you’ll sleep undisturbed. Goodnight!” And turning to Elizabeth, he said with the most serious expression, “Will you show me the way?”
Caroline could not move for ten full minutes after that. When she recovered, she began cursing Elizabeth.
As soon as they were out of Caroline’s sight, Elizabeth squeezed William’s hand and they began laughing making as little noise as possible. Darcy was delighted to see the familiar sparkle in Elizabeth’s eyes that made them even more beautiful. Her smile became teasing, as she spoke.
“Liar! You never snore!”
“Caroline doesn’t know that, and I can safely promise you that she will never learn it.” He replied smiling as well.
“Even if she enters your room naked?” she asked without fearing the answer anymore. She had not trusted him at first, but she was wrong. William seemed totally immune to Lady Caroline’s charms and Elizabeth was determined not to let her ridiculous attitude poison their relationship again.
“Naked?” He looked momentarily disgusted. “Then she is more likely to hear my screams than any sleeping sounds I make.”
They stopped walking in front of her door.
“So, which room best suits you, sir?” She asked.
William didn’t answer immediately. He touched her cheek with his finger; then caressed her face and her neck with soft moves. Elizabeth felt her knees trembling. ‘This effect again!’ she thought. ’I am totally at his mercy.’ When he spoke, his voice was barely recognizable.
“There is only one room that suits me, Elizabeth. Yours.”
“Be my guest.” It was all she could mutter before his lips found hers for a long passionate kiss.
“I want you so much,” William said in a whisper as he held her against the wall, kissing her slowly. She barely heard him, the words not registering in her mind. All she was aware of were his hands, undressing her with slow moves, touching her skin, caressing every part of her that he was revealing. His lips followed the velvety caress of his fingers, and she moaned. “I haven’t been able to make any coherent thought since morning,” he continued his seductive speech.
Elizabeth’s breath was strained. Her body was craving for him, tonight more badly than ever. Their kiss in the morning had awakened a new need that they hardly knew how to satiate. She had little control over her actions, trying to worship his whole body at once, as he was teasing her every molecule with his touch and kisses. She looked deeply in his eyes and was almost frightened by what she saw there. She didn’t remember having ever met with such desire. Little did she know that her eyes were reflecting exactly the same degree of passion.
William was trying to keep his self control, but he almost feared that his body would explode into thousands of pieces. Elizabeth’s moans of satisfaction would have been enough to drive him crazy, but it was not only that. The feeling of her soft skin pressed against his, her body shaking under his caresses, and most of all, the glow of her face and the dark look in her eyes left him at her mercy. He wanted to offer her pleasure, immense pleasure, and to make her mad about him as he was about her.
He continued his exploration of her body, rediscovering favourite parts, as Elizabeth was witnessing brand new sensations awaking in her. She decided that she had to pay him back, but she hardly knew what to do anymore. This was nothing like their previous times together. Though she had never found anything lacking in their lovemaking, this was different. It was so much more; this physical experience asked for more and gave more. She decided to let her instinct lead her; there was no way she could control her response. It was so powerful; beyond measure or logic.
It was as if they were playing with the fire; no one could bear it much longer. “I want you, Will. I need you,” Elizabeth said with a voice that not even she could recognize as her own. He could not but obey; and they were soon united, traveling together towards a land that belonged only to them; that was as beautiful as their love was; somewhere that was sunny and warm and safe; where no worries or jealousies or betrayals from the past could harm them. They cried each other’s name almost simultaneously and then their lips were united for the longest kiss. At that moment they were together, they were one; and they wanted for nothing more.
They made love several times that night, each of them full of small, precious surprises and new tokens of tenderness and passion. Afterwards they surrendered to the most peaceful slumber, not stirring from their close embrace. They had the same smile of satisfaction and happiness on their faces; but they didn’t know it.
Elizabeth had just exited her bathroom when she heard her phone ringing. It brought her back to reality. Since her return to her house two hours before, she could not stop thinking of Scotland. ‘Back to real life,’ she thought as she picked up the telephone. But she was pleasantly surprised. It was Jane who refused to go back to reality as well, and wanted to talk about Scotland. Both sisters conversed happily for a while, but none told each other what had really made them happy during the trip. Elizabeth found she could not open her heart even to Jane, although she knew that her sister would never disapprove her choice. Everyone else might say, ‘She’s doing everything in her power to be the future editor…or the future Mrs. Very Rich Darcy,’ but Jane could never believe such behavior possible for anyone, much less for her own sister. Still Elizabeth didn’t open her heart to her. As for Jane, she was so confused, that she didn’t dare to try to explain what was going on in her heart. She could not refrain from giving her sister a hint, however.
“Lizzy, do you remember that conversation we had after meeting Charles for the first time?”
“I wish I could forget it, Jane.” Elizabeth had not quite gotten over the painful experience.
“Well,” Jane said quietly, “That part… where I said I could never love anyone again… that a part of me is dead?”
Elizabeth sighed. “Yes?”
“I think that maybe I exaggerated a bit.”
Elizabeth smiled with relief. “Of course you did, darling. You just have to be a little careful, that’s all.”
“I will, Lizzy.”
“Janie, I’ve got to go now. I’ve got an interview tomorrow with a very interesting person.”
“Do I know him?”
“You must know him by reputation…He’s wealthy, he’s gorgeous, he has the female population of London at his feet and he’s a philanthropist as well. He’s the greatest supporter of the Ministry of Education’s projects. Can you guess now?”
Jane got the hint. “Lucky you! I can’t believe that tomorrow you will be talking to...”
“George Wickham.” Elizabeth finished the sentence for her.
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