Futon: A thin mattress of tufted cotton batting or similar material
G-string: A garment for the lower body that exposes the buttocks, consisting of a narrow strip of fabric that passes between the thighs supported by a waistband, known in the US as a 'thong'
Joggers: a sports shoe, in the style of Reeboks etc
Around the twist: an expression indicating sending someone mildly insane (colloquial)
Mainland: Australia Mate: a common form of
address, generally between males, indicating a friend
G-string: A garment for the lower body that exposes the buttocks, consisting of a narrow strip of fabric that passes between the thighs supported by a waistband, known in the US as a 'thong'
Joggers: a sports shoe, in the style of Reeboks etc
Around the twist: an expression indicating sending someone mildly insane (colloquial)
Mate: a common form of address, generally between males, indicating a friend
Returning from his jog along the beach, he sat in the pre-dawn light, letting his accelerated breathing returning to normal, waiting for the sun to crest the horizon. This was his favorite time of day - the quiet stillness of the night broken by the gentle rustling of the palms as the sea breeze rippled through them. Slouched comfortably in his chair on the hardwood deck, he rubbed his eyes, tired from another night spent at his laptop. He idly fingered his week's worth of stubble, sipping fresh orange juice as he watched and waited. The sun began its slow ascent throwing shadowy patterns across the deck; the birds beginning their morning chorus in welcome to the new day. He sighed deeply. The rejuvenating power of the dawn worked it's magic over him and he smiled to himself.
He looked out over the white sandy beach below him - its pristine sand marked only by his footprints - entranced by the sparkling of the silvery rays on the clear tropical waters. Like thousands of diamonds, they twinkled and glittered. A movement caught his eye, and he looked closer to make it out. A young woman, she couldn't be more than 15 years old, walked up the sand and plopped down directly in his line of vision through the trees. It was rare for anyone else to be up and about at this hour; he was an habitually early riser when he wasn't writing, but when he was working he was inclined to work through the night, pausing just before dawn for a well-earned break. He was accustomed to enjoying this early morning delight in a solitary fashion, as was usually the case, and he was mildly curious and irrationally annoyed to discover he had an unknown 'companion'.
She appeared so diminutive from his vantage point that he initially thought she must have been the daughter of one of the guests, but he idly watched as she took off her t-shirt, revealing a very well rounded but nicely proportioned body restrained in a yellow bikini. He suddenly realized this was no teenager, and his eyebrow lifted appreciatively. Feeling like a voyeur, he watched as she unpinned her hair, the soft chignon collapsing into a long mane of dark chestnut curls which tumbled free as she shook her head from side to side.
Subconsciously, his eyes strained to follow her progress as she suddenly sprinted into the water, diving under so that he temporarily lost sight of her. He looked and watched for her to resurface, and started to become alarmed when a minute passed and she still had not reappeared. Unconscious to his actions, he left his deck chair, peering over the balcony, straining to catch sight of her. Eventually, much to his surprise, she broke the surface about 40 meters away, rolling onto her back to float lazily in the water. He exhaled sharply, unaware he had been holding his breath.
He went back to his desk, shaking his head as he turned off his computer. "Time for a shower and sleep," he told himself. He couldn't resist casting one more glance at the mystery woman, though. He watched as she left the water, grabbing for and shaking her towel before wiping the water out of her eyes.
Though the island was mostly quiet and still waking to the new day, a feeling of being under observation overcame her and she looked around as she dried herself, her eyes eventually swinging in the man's direction. Across the intervening space, their gazes met and held before she abruptly broke the contact and sprinted back up the beach out of sight.
He came back to this island year after year for the privacy it afforded him, never mixing with the other guests, preferring to work and keep his own company. He had become well known to the couple who managed the resort, and they respected his privacy realizing that he came to work, and not for fun and relaxation like their other guests. It was very rare that he even saw other people, taking meals in his room and sleeping through the day while they were at play. He smiled to himself at the irony of the situation: an unmarried writer of romance novels typing his nights away at what was primarily a very private honeymoon retreat.
He slid the door to the deck shut, cocooning himself from the sounds of life awakening beyond his room and made his way through to the shower, turning on the air conditioning as he went. Today would be another scorcher, like every day on Bedarra Island.
He leant against the wall of the shower stall, the force of the spray pummeling his well-muscled chest. Feeling the tension finally seep out of his body, he shook his head and reached for the taps, cutting off the cool jets of water. Rivulets of water ran down his body as he grabbed his towel, briskly rubbing himself dry. Feeling relaxed and ready for sleep, he padded naked, hair still dripping, across the polished wood floor and upstairs to the huge bedroom. For someone whose occupation required long periods of sitting, his body was surprisingly athletic. His early morning jog was more to clear his head than any conscious attempt at exercise, but in this as in all things, he drove himself hard-the results were obvious in the tightness of his buttocks and the sharp delineation of his strong leg muscles.
With an easy grace, he moved toward the bed, sighing deeply as he plopped down onto the firmness of the mattress. He hated soft beds - he had spent many a night sleeping on the floor in search of the firmness his body craved. However, his needs were well known at this resort, and as he was such a regular customer, they were quite willing to cater to this request. He had been pleasantly surprised to find a futon awaiting him this visit. He had only mentioned his preference in passing to the manager, but his comment had been duly noted and actioned, ready for his return. But then this is an exclusive resort, he thought; the high level of service was one of the reasons he kept coming back.
Succumbing to the pervading tiredness of his mind and body, he lay spread-eagled on the white sheets in an attempt to keep his body cool. He drifted quickly off to sleep to the soothing hum of the air-conditioner, but his slumber was soon disturbed as he tossed restlessly to the visions of chestnut curls and a voluptuous body.
He awoke many hours later as the sun was setting-his hard, throbbing erection evidence of the torment of his sleep.
I really need to get a life, he thought to himself, as he hit the shower again.
He picked up the phone, prepared to call for room service as usual, but changed his mind at the last moment, and decided, for some unknown reason, to eat in the restaurant. He dressed quickly in a pair of jeans and a white polo shirt, hoping to catch the beginning of the first sitting for dinner. He normally avoided the restaurant, feeling a little out of place being solo in a sea of newlyweds and the occasional happy family, but he was feeling a little isolated and in need of human company. He had been here for a week now and had hardly left his room except for his daily jog.
The Maitre D', surprised to see their hermitic guest standing in his restaurant, rushed to seat him.
"Is there anywhere in particular you would like to sit, Mr Darcy?" asked the Maitre D'. The first sitting is usually fairly quiet, so you have your choice: on the balcony, by the pool, or in the main dining area."
"Just somewhere out of the way will be fine thank you … Robert," he said shortly, noting the man's name badge. "I'm just here to eat - not enjoy the scenery."
Slightly surprised at the gentleman's brusqueness, Robert nonetheless smiled politely and led him to a table for two against the far wall. Scooping up the extra setting, Robert offered the menu to Mr Darcy and moved back to his station.
Darcy suddenly realized how hungry he was, and after an appetizer of pate lightly flavoured with Grand Marnier, he settled back to await the arrival of his bouillabaisse. Sipping a rich, red chianti, he looked around the restaurant. His eyes skimmed over the tables of couples, his gaze finally resting on the only other single diner in the restaurant.
Her head down reading, he couldn't mistake that lustrous head of soft curls - it was the mermaid of this morning. Her lightly tanned body was dressed this time in a silky, peach-coloured, strapless sundress. Unaware of his stare, she read on, making notes on the text and shaking her head occasionally as she disagreed with something she read. Whatever it was she was reading, she was not terribly impressed by it - he could sense the frown from where he was sitting.
As the waiter approached with her meal, she looked up, taking off her glasses as she did so and smiling her thanks at him. Darcy's jaw dropped as he finally saw her face. It was not beautiful in the classic sense, but when she smiled … the eyes! She became radiant. She said something he could not hear to the waiter and they shared a laugh - hers a delightful, melodic sound. Putting her work aside, she glanced around the restaurant as she ate her meal, smiling at the other patrons, warmed by their happiness. Her gaze finally rested on him, the only other lone diner, and catching him looking her way, she winked at him, acknowledging the fact that they were the only two singles in a room full of happy couples. Discomforted at being caught staring, he quickly looked away. Suddenly realizing that someone was at his elbow trying to catch his attention, he looked up.
"What?" he rudely asked the waiter.
"Your meal, sir," he said, placing it in front of Darcy with a flourish.
"Good. Err thanks," said Darcy, flushed with embarrassment. He sipped his bouillabaisse, hardly noticing the exquisite mix of fennel and saffron flavoring the rich tomatoey fish soup.
As soon as possible he finished his meal and quickly left the restaurant, heading for the peaceful isolation of his room - his day's work about to begin.
Lizzy wondered who the rude gentleman was that had just left the restaurant. She was only trying to be friendly, but he looked like she had offended him. Strange man. Still, she couldn't help thinking he was very good looking and that he looked vaguely familiar. Shrugging off the feeling, she finished her meal and signaled for the bill. Signing it, she picked up her notes and left.
It was such a beautiful night; she wandered along the wooden decking - still warm from the day's heat - to the beach, deciding to take a stroll before heading back to the emptiness of her room. The moonlight on the water had a special magic and she found it soothing to listen to the waves washing up on the sand. Kicking off her shoes, she hooked her fingers through the straps and stepped onto the now cool sand, sinking slightly into its softness. Finding her favourite spot under the palm, she sat down, her arms linked around her knees, looking out at the kaleidoscope of stars, so clear in the tropical night sky.
She loved coming to this place, the serenity was what she needed at this time in her life. The usual tranquility eluded her tonight, however. Perhaps it was all the happy couples she was surrounded by - their joy in each other transparent - but without wanting to do so, memories of the last twelve horrendous months of her life washed over her. Now that her divorce was final, she could and should finally start to put the past behind her, but first she knew she had to really let it go, release it, and be done with it. Tears filled her eyes, slowly at first and, gathering momentum, the floodgates of her emotional dam burst; heaving sobs racked her frame as suppressed feelings of the betrayal and hurt that always hovered near the surface came flooding back. She cried and cried, her loneliness washing over her until at last the tears eased. Wiping her face, she sighed, realizing she had crossed a hurdle - a huge hurdle. All the time she had kept it in and bottled it up - and now she felt cleansed, free of the guilt and hurt and feelings of abandonment.
She suddenly yearned for the freedom of the water on her body. Looking around first to see if anyone was near, she eased her dress down until she stood only in her bra and undies. Chuckling to herself and feeling like a teenager again, she quickly ran into the warm water and dived in, breaking the surface and swimming down the beach with fast, strong, clean strokes. She stopped to tread water, getting her breath back before leisurely swimming back to where she had left her clothes. Feeling refreshed, she grabbed her dress and shoes and headed to her villa - a skip in her step and a new lightness in her heart.
Feeling distracted and unable to settle to his writing, Will Darcy was walking along the track leading from his villa to the beach enjoying the cool night air when the sound of sobbing pierced his consciousness. He quickly turned off onto another path, unwilling to get involved in what was probably a misunderstanding or the first fight of a newly wed couple. Besides, he had other things on his mind. His new novel was slowly taking shape but he was still struggling with his heroine. He wanted her to be beautiful obviously, but he needed her to have something else … a strength of spirit that went beyond the mind - it had to come from her soul. His attempts to fully capture her in his mind and in words were becoming extremely frustrating. Wandering onto the beach, lost in thought, he was almost bowled over by someone running into him. Reflexively grabbing each other to keep from falling, they both rushed to apologize at the same time.
"I'm terribly sorry, sir. I should have been looking where I was going," said Lizzy as she recovered her balance, glancing up into a penetrating pair of dark brown eyes that seemed to look right through her. She shivered to herself in the balmy night air.
"My apologies, Miss. The fault was all mine; I should have been looking where I was going." He looked down at his captive, taking in the flushed expression and haunting eyes, suddenly becoming aware that he was holding an almost naked woman; the woman who also happened to be the one currently visiting his dreams. He wondered from the look of her slightly reddened eyes if she had been the one crying on the beach.
Her lips parted as she felt the pull of his body heat. Lizzy could feel the warmth emanating from him, taking the chill off her damp skin. She felt herself leaning into the warmth of his body - she had missed the feeling of a man's strong arms around her, cuddling her.
"Don't you have more sense that to go running around on the beach at night wearing nothing but your underwear, Miss? You never know what type of undesirable you might run into," he smirked.
His words hit her like a slap of cold water, bringing reality back into sharp focus.
"For your information, Sir, I was just having a quick dip, and while we're at it - that's Mrs, not Miss."
He gazed at her eyes, spitting with fire, and felt an uncontrollable urge to reach down and taste the salt on her full lips.
"If you wouldn't mind releasing me?" she asked, looking pointedly at his arms encircling her body.
"My pleasure … Mrs," he said, releasing her and watching as she sprinted up the steps of the villa two down from his.
He whistled silently to himself as he watched her run away. Some bodies were just made for g-strings, he thought in admiration, and that was definitely one of them.
He carried on back to his villa, his desire for a walk now diminished. He had what he had been searching for. His inspiration found, he sat at his laptop and began to type. Words that had eluded him previously now poured onto the screen. The vision of his heroine firmly fixed in his mind, the hours flew by, page after page of type flowing from his fingers.
With the first watery rays of the pre dawn, Will donned his joggers and set off for his morning run. Pleased with what he had achieved during the wee hours of the night, he sprinted up the beach and back again, reveling in the cool morning air. Sweating and panting, he looked at the cool, inviting water, and on impulse stripped off his shoes and shorts and ran into the water. Man! That felt good. He realized guiltily he was doing exactly what he had chastised "Mrs Whatever her name was" for doing last night, and laughed to himself at the irony. Heading back up to his split-level villa, he grabbed a juice and a towel on his way through to the deck, prepared to greet the morning in his usual way. For some reason he couldn't quite explain, he felt better today than he had in weeks. The sun rose higher in the sky, and still he sat. As the tiredness started to take its toll on his body, he wondered idly why he wasn't in bed, sound asleep. But deep down he knew. He was waiting for his heroine to appear. But the fingers of tiredness winding through his body refused to be ignored, and succumbing to his need for sleep, he surrendered his vigil.
"So how are you enjoying your stay, Lizzy? Met any desirable young men yet?" asked her Aunt, smiling at her favorite niece.
"Sure, Aunt Maddie - and they're all married!" laughed Lizzy. "Although I am curious about one of them … who is the guy in that split-level a couple down from mine? Is he honeymooning too?"
"William Darcy? He is kind of cute, isn't he?" winked Aunt Maddie.
"Aunt! Whatever would Uncle Edward say?" exclaimed Lizzy in mock shock.
Maddie laughed. "No, he isn't married as far as I know. He comes here a few times a year to work." She held her hand up to forestall the inevitable question from her inquisitive niece. "And I am not telling you what kind of work, so forget it," she smiled.
"Never mind - he seems a bit of a smart-arse anyway from what I've seen, and I've had my share of those. Still, nothing wrong with a bit of eye-candy," she winked at her Aunt and they laughed together.
Lizzy's Uncle Edward and Aunt Maddie had managed the Resort for the last five years, and Lizzy loved having the chance to visit them. It was a little bit of luxury she would never be able to afford otherwise. She only just made enough in her job to pay her mortgage and bills.
"Speaking of work, Aunt Maddie, I need to start back at the beginning of next week. Can I get a flight back to the mainland on Sunday?"
"There's a flight going back to the mainland at 10:00 am, sweetie - it should connect with the midday flight from Cairns to Sydney. Will that be soon enough?"
"Perfect. I should get into Sydney by mid afternoon. Plenty of time to get organized for work on Monday."
"Are you going to be okay, Lizzy? Edward and I worry about you being so far away." She hugged Lizzy fondly, kissing her forehead.
"Why weren't you my mother, Aunt Maddie? Mum never worries about me like you do. All I ever hear from her is how shocking it is that I'm divorced, and how I just don't know how to hold on to a man," she said sadly.
"I'm sorry, Lizzy. I understand that your mother and you have never got on particularly well, but she just has trouble expressing her feelings, that's all."
"Expressing her feelings? That's a joke. I don't know how Dad stayed married to her all these years. I'm only surprised she hasn't sent him around the twist. I wonder sometimes if I rushed into marriage just to get away from her …"
"You're too sensible for that, Lizzy Bennet. You went into it with the right intentions; you just made a bad choice, that's all. But if your mother gets too much, you know you always have a home here. You're like the daughter Edward and I never had."
Lizzy smiled, comfortable in the mutual sharing of affection. It had been just what she needed, plus an escape from the condemning words of her mother and the pitying glances of her friends.
"Anyway, that's enough of that, Lizzy. Scoot! Go out and have some fun!" And she smacked her lightly on the bottom as she sent her on her way, much as she had done when she was a little girl.
Will hadn't seen his 'heroine' as he now fondly thought of her, for a couple of days. He was starting to think she must have left the island and recognized that he was feeling slightly disappointed by this, although couldn't grasp why. The last thing he needed was an involvement, and with a married woman no less. But if she is happily married, why is she here on her own? He realized the incongruity of his thought when he considered how his own situation must look. However when he ran into Maddie Gardener next evening coming out of the manager's residence, he couldn't help making a few enquiries.
"How are things going, Mr Darcy? Getting plenty of writing done?"
"I've told you before Maddie, call me Will," he smiled, enjoying the easy friendship he shared with the lady and her husband. They were two of the few people with whom he could really relax; they respected and protected his privacy. He appreciated that. "And yes, I am getting plenty of writing done," he continued. "I should be finished up and ready to leave in one more week. That will only leave final revisions and editing when I get back home. Did I tell you I'll be getting a new editor when I get back? Old Mrs Smythe finally retired. She said the only reason she stayed that long was to read my books," he laughed, "but I promised to send her one hot off the presses from now on. I just hope they give me another gem like her - not one of these up and coming, fire-in-their belly ones who think they know more about writing than writers."
"Have you thought of slowing down a bit, Will? Three or four books a year is too much to keep up indefinitely. And it's not as if you need the money. Get out and live a little, have some fun. No lovely lady turning your head yet?"
"Well, now that you mention it," he started, suddenly looking bashful, "one lady caught my eye, but I think she's married. That'd be just my luck!"
"Why do you think she's married, Will?"
"She's a guest here, for one, and secondly, she told me quite emphatically that she was a Mrs, not a Miss. She is or was staying in the villa a couple down from mine. Beautiful woman - her husband must be one lucky guy," he said wistfully.
"Two down from you?" asked Maddie, laughing. "Long, dark, wavy hair?"
"That's my niece, Will. Her name is Lizzy."
"Your niece?" he asked in total surprise.
Maddie laughed at the surprised look on his face. "She is a Mrs, and I am trusting you to do the right thing here, Will, because she is newly divorced and she had a pretty rough time of it. I don't think she's ready for somebody new just yet."
Will nodded in understanding. Maybe it was Lizzy he heard crying on the beach that night after all.
Saturday morning rolled around, and Will sat on his deck looking out over the ocean. He hadn't seen Lizzy since that night on the beach, and had just about given up on seeing her again. Still, he looked for her each morning just in case. He turned to go in for his shower, when a flash of yellow caught his eye. He flashed back to the railing in time to see her stripping off ready for her dip. A big smile broke his normally stony features, and he grabbed his beach towel and bolted out the front door and down the steps.
What am I doing? he thought. I'm just going for a swim, he rationalized to himself. But you promised Maddie… Yes, I know, but I'm not going to marry the girl, just talk to her.
Lizzy was just taking off her sandles when she heard a voice behind her and turned around.
"Good morning, Lizzy," said Will, the huskiness of his voice caressing her name.
She looked surprised that he knew her name, but then smiled cheekily to herself. "Good morning to you too, William."
"Do you mind if I join you for a swim?"
"Why? Do you think I need protecting from undesirables? The only people I can see here are you and me … are you an undesirable?"
He laughed at her questions. "Touché, Lizzy. I deserved that."
They swam and dived, talking and playing in the crystal clear water for some time, slowly warming up to each other before Will started to feel the familiar lassitude creeping over him. As they stood on the still cool sand drying themselves, Will made his move.
"Lizzy, would you consider having dinner with me tonight?"
Lizzy looked up, noticing how tall he was - she was 5'5" and she only just came up to his shoulder. Hmmm, nice and tall, and tanned.
"Lizzy? Did you hear what I said?"
"I'm sorry, I beg your pardon?" asked Lizzy, shaking her head to clear it.
"I wondered if you would consider having dinner with me tonight?"
"Ohhh. I appreciate you asking, William, but I'm not dating. I'm, well … I'm not, okay?"
"If it makes you feel any easier, don't call it a date. I just feel like eating in the restaurant tonight and I'm tired of eating alone, if you know what I mean."
He stood there looking like a homeless puppy, but Lizzy knew exactly what he meant. Singles tended to stand out on Bedarra. "Okay, just dinner - as friends." She couldn't help discreetly admiring the way he filled out a pair of swimmers. It had been how long since she'd been with a man?
"Great. I'll pick you up at 6:30." He was reluctant to leave her, but he knew he had to go otherwise he would be shattered by tonight. "Now I've gotta go get some sleep, Lizzy. I usually work nights."
"Oh? What work do you do, William?"
"I'm a writer, Lizzy. This is my sleep time. See you later?"
She nodded and waved, watching him walk away and admiring the view before wandering slowly back to her villa. Maybe he wasn't such a jerk after all, she mused.
Lizzy stood looking at her wardrobe frantically trying to decide what to wear. Why am I so nervous, she wondered. This isn't a date … Oh bugger! What am I going to wear? Narrowing her choices down to two, she tossed up between the white slacks and red silk shirt, or the little blue dress with the cowl neck and the dipping back. One was casual; the other was dressy. William would be here in ten minutes. She took a wild guess, and grabbed the blue dress.
She was just putting the finishing touches to her hair, attempting to restrain the generous curls with tiny, silvery butterfly clips, when she heard the knock. She opened the door, at once glad she had chosen the dress. The look in William's eyes and the rounding of his lips told her she had definitely made the right choice. His openly admiring response warmed her, but then he didn't look too shabby himself she thought - a very smart, white, open-necked shirt and dressy blue slacks. But there was something different about him and she was having trouble putting her finger on it. Then she realized. He was clean-shaven. And he smelled goooood. Whatever that aftershave was, she wanted to buy shares in the company! She smiled widely at him, pleasantly surprised he had gone to as much trouble as she had. But this was definitely not a date. Not. No. Right.
"So when are you heading back to the mainland, Lizzy?"
"Tomorrow morning at 10:00; I'm starting back at work on Monday. I have a new client to take over and I hear she's a real difficult one. Not looking forward to that at all. But I love coming to the island; the time just seems to fly though. I really envy Uncle Edward and Aunt Maddie their life here. What a dream job," she sighed. "What about you, William? When do you head back?"
"I'll be here for another week. I daresay I won't be having any more enjoyable evenings like this one though," he smiled at her.
Lizzy thought again how devastatingly handsome William was when he smiled like that. He had the most gorgeous dimples - in fact the whole package was pretty damn hot, she thought appreciatively. She honestly couldn't believe some woman hadn't snapped him up. Another time and another place maybe, and who knows … she could have been very interested.
They sat at a table overlooking the beach - the candlelight casting an intimate ambience over them. Surrounded by other couples but oblivious to their presence, the conversation flowed easily between them and William realized he hadn't felt this relaxed with a lady for a very long time. Sick of the money-hungry, society types trying to get their hands on him and his family fortune, he had all but dropped out of the social scene. But there was something different about Lizzy, he thought reflectively. She didn't know a thing about him but what she was seeing here, tonight, and the magic was definitely there. She laughed at his sorry jokes and humored him out of his moments of seriousness. He was glad he had impulsively taken the night off from writing to dine with her. He watched and listened attentively as she told him a funny story about her Aunt and Uncle from her childhood - she positively sparkled. God, but she's beautiful when she's like this, he mused. What I wouldn't give to run my hands through that glorious hair and over that gorgeous body... But she's 'hands off' mate, he reminded himself a little disconsolately.
As they stood to leave, Will moved quickly to pull out her chair and placed his hand on the small of her back as they walked out. The feel of his warm hand on her bare skin sent a shiver through Lizzy.
"Chilly?" William leaned down to whisper in her ear.
Lizzy shook her head and blushed at his misinterpretation of her reaction. If he could make her shiver with pleasure just by innocently touching her, imagine what would happen if … She stopped herself before finishing the thought, the pain of the last 12 months creeping in once again to haunt her. No, she told herself, I'm just not ready for that. No way.
"Would you like a nightcap in the bar, Lizzy?"
"That would be lovely."
And taking her hand as if it was the most natural thing in the world, he led her to a small intimate setting overlooking the pool. They sat in the balmy warmth of the tropical evening, chatting companionably and sipping their drinks. William looked at the lady at his side and couldn't help thinking how pleasant it would be to spend many evenings in this manner. The strains of a Gershwin classic drifted out to them from the guy playing the piano in the bar…
Lizzy looked at William, puzzled by his distracted expression. The warmth of her touch on his arm brought him out of his musings.
"Are you okay?" Lizzy asked hesitantly. "I thought I lost you there for a moment."
"Just listening to that music," he smiled. "I haven't heard it in years - always loved it. I'm a big Gershwin fan."
"Me too, William. What's your favourite?"
"Rhapsody in Blue used to be, but I have new appreciation now for 'Someone To Watch Over Me'. I quite like the sound of that."
"You don't strike me as the sort of man who needs someone to watch over him. I think you probably do very nicely on your own."
"Maybe …" he said cryptically. "You just never know."
They finished their nightcaps and strolled the short distance to Lizzy's villa. Impulsively Will stopped and took Lizzy's hands in his.
"Walk with me Lizzy? Please? It's still early, and you're leaving tomorrow. I really don't want the night to end yet - I'm really enjoying your company."
Lizzy was enjoying herself too. William was attentive, appreciative company and for the first time in a long time she was enjoying feeling like a beautiful woman. It had been too long, and the feeling was seductive. "Sure. It's too beautiful a night to spend inside anyway."
Wandering off in the direction of the beach, Will managed to retain hold of one of Lizzy's hands. She didn't mind though; the feeling was comforting, safe.
Walking along in the moonlight, she steered the conversation tentatively onto a more personal tack.
"Why is it a great guy like you isn't married, William?"
Will swallowed in surprise at her variation on the thought that had just been running through his mind. "I think maybe my expectations are a little high, Lizzy. I have an idea in my mind of what I want my dream woman to be, and I guess I'm just happy to keep looking until I find her," he said softly, looking at her intently.
"What about you, Lizzy?" He waited patiently to see if she felt safe enough to confide in him what he already knew.
"I guess you might as well know, William. I'm divorced. Just."
He felt a surge of relief at her revelation.
"That's the main reason I'm not ready for dating. And no, I have no idea of what my ideal man is, not any more. I'm not naïve enough to believe in 'ideal anything' after the last 12 months."
Will stopped, and taking Lizzy's chin he turned her face up to his. Lowering his head to hers, he kissed her softly on the lips, once … twice, before releasing her.
"Don't give up on love, Lizzy," he said quietly. "That would be a terrible waste."
Lizzy was speechless. The kiss, its softness and tenderness, had taken her completely by surprise. Her lips felt like they were burning from the brief touch, and he smiled shyly as he noticed her finger reach up to touch her lips where his has been. She looked up at William, at the contrasting strength and softness in his profile, his dark unruly hair softening the firmness of his face. Wow! she thought.
"So what went wrong with your marriage, Lizzy? If you don't mind me asking, that is."
Taken by surprise at the question, Lizzy didn't know what to say. "Um, I guess we just wanted different things from life. Things we should have talked about before we married."
"Like?" prodded Will gently.
"Well my husband, I mean ex-husband, Anthony, was from a fairly wealthy family; he didn't need to work and couldn't understand why I did. It definitely wasn't that I needed the money then, but I really needed the satisfaction of doing something with my life rather than just going to charity functions and doing lunch with the girls. My career was finally starting to take off, and I suppose he resented it."
"So what happened?"
"Oh, he started having affairs with a variety of women, which I would never have found out about if one of them hadn't fallen pregnant." It was said so matter-of-factly that Will could have been deceived into thinking that she was over it if not for the hurt look that flashed quickly in her eyes. "She called me at work one day to tell me to let my husband go, because she could obviously give him something that I couldn't." She shuddered then at the memory, closing her eyes to the pain it caused. "I confronted him about it and …" She looked away, unable to finish.
"Were you working very long hours at the time?"
"Well, yes, but it wasn't going to be for ever. He knew that."
"Did you try to compromise? It takes two to make a marriage work, Lizzy."
"That's rich coming from a man who seems to be avoiding marriage like the plague," she shot back, peeved that he had hit a nerve. He sounded just like her mother.
"My parents were very happily married and deeply in love until my mother died, Lizzy, so I do have a point of reference," he answered more sharply than he intended. What is she getting so hot under the collar about? he thought.
"Who are you - Doctor John Gray? I wanted my marriage to work. Don't you think I tried and tried to make it work?"
"I'm sure you feel that you did," he attempted to suggest reasonably, "but maybe if you'd been home a bit more, instead of working such long hours …"
"What? You mean, like, pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen? Which century are you living in William? Women are allowed to have a career too. Are you plan on chaining your wife to the house or something?"
"No, but I'm damn sure I wouldn't want my wife to work - I'd want her waiting for me at home. Maybe if Anthony had been getting what he needed at home, he wouldn't have gone looking for it elsewhere!" he retorted.
"What?? Who the hell do you think you are telling me how I should live my life? You know, I should have trusted my first impression of you - I thought you were a smart-arse the first time I ran into you, and now I'm certain of it. Oh, and William? Good luck finding your ideal woman. I just thank God I'm not her!"
"Save it!" Furious, she turned and stormed off, running all the way back to her villa.
Will stood on the beach for a moment looking bewildered. What on earth had just happened? Replaying the conversation in his mind, he realized what he had done - he had overstepped the line. Maddie had warned him she was delicate on the subject of her divorce; she was here trying to get away from it for goodness sake. Oh Will, you fool! he thought. You absolute, bloody idiot! The fragile trust he had started to build with Lizzy was shattered. He wandered back to his room, but there would be no writing tonight. He sensed he had just shattered his heroine.
Will woke groggily the next day, the effects of his bout with the mini-bar last night after his disastrous talk with Lizzy painfully obvious from the tom-toms beating in his head. He had to apologize to Lizzy before she left. Grabbing his watch off the bedside table, he checked the time - 9:00. Good. He rushed into the shower to get the smell of alcohol off him and the cobwebs out of his head. The sharp needles of water felt like they were piercing straight through his scalp, but he persevered. After fifteen minutes, he felt almost human again. Dressing quickly, he rushed over to Lizzy's villa. Finding the door open, he entered, calling out to her, "Lizzy? Lizzy? It's Will."
A head popped out of the bathroom. "She's not here, Mr Darcy."
"Well, where is she?" he asked, frantic.
"I believe she caught the first flight back to the mainland this morning. The 7:00 one."
Will's shoulders slumped. He couldn't believe she had already left. He didn't know where she lived or her phone number or anything - not even her surname. Maddie! he thought. She would know!
"I'm sorry William. I really can't give you that information," said Maddie doggedly. "What happened between you two?"
"Lets just say I said some things I shouldn't have, Maddie, and I'm very sorry. I really need to apologize to her. Please!" He hated to plead, but was prepared to do so if he must.
"If Lizzy had wanted you to know, she would have told you herself, William," she said softly, patting his arm. "I'm sure you can appreciate what I'm saying. Her privacy is important to her the same as yours is to you." She looked compassionately at the man in front of her. She wasn't sure what had happened between her niece and this man, but Lizzy had woken her last night at 11:00, crying, to tell her she would be leaving on the first plane. She knew they had dinner together and everything had been fine at the restaurant. What had happened after that, she had no idea, and neither one was saying. She shook her head. They would just have to work it out themselves - if it was meant to be, it would be, she thought to herself.
Will walked back to his room and sat down to type. His heroine took on Lizzy's pain as he tried to expunge his guilt. She had a soul all right, and he had crushed it.
Someone To Watch Over Me - Piano by Keith Jarrett
Music by George Gershwin