Bird: a good-looking, generally younger female

Lounge room: den or living room; the room where the sofa, TV etc are

Power point: electrical outlet

Plasticene: modeling clay

Gutsa: as in "come a gutsa" ie to fall off, crash, etc

Studs: metal buttons on the fly of jeans

Charles Bingley jumped, awakened from a light doze in his leather chair. Rubbing his eyes, he reached over and pressed the flashing intercom button on his phone.

"Yes, Charlotte?" he said.

"Lizzy has just arrived. Did you still want to see her first up this morning?"

"Yes, Charlotte. Can you get her to come up as soon as she's settled ... say 10:00?"

"Sure thing, Boss. I'll let her know straight away, before she has a chance to get swamped."

Charles leant on his desk with his head in his hands. He was surprised by the knock on the door a few minutes later. "Come," he said tiredly.

Charlotte walked in carrying a cup of steaming black espresso and put it on the desk under his nose. The strong aroma wafted up and assaulted his nostrils.

"Drink that, and don't argue. By the way, you look terrible. Robbie keep you up last night?"

Charles was only 32, but today he looked 42. Dark circles under his eyes were a dead give away to his current lack of sound sleep. Robbie was Charles' six-year-old son, who was left in his sole care since the death of his wife in a hit and run two years previously.

"He was up most of the last two nights; a 24 hour bug stretching into a 48 hour one I think. He seemed a bit better this morning, though. The temperature is back to normal, and he's keeping his fluids down now. Mrs Chifley is keeping an eye on him today." Mrs Chifley was Charles' 50 year-old cook/housekeeper. She had been working for him for the last eight years - since before his marriage.

"You really need to get a live-in nanny, Charles. You can't be up all night with a six year old and still expect to come in here and run this company effectively. Something is going to suffer. You sure you don't want me to give you the phone numbers for those nanny recruitment agencies?"

"No, Charlotte. You know what Robbie is like around strangers. He's been a little withdrawn since Cassandra died, and I just don't think it would help matters if he had to suddenly get used to a strange woman in the house. Mrs Chifley doesn't mind looking after him during the day."

"It's not the days I'm worried about, Boss. But don't worry - I'll scrape what's left of you up off the floor when you finally fall apart. Just don't do a Humpty Dumpty on me, okay?"

Charles laughed weakly. "Tell me again why I pay you so much money to give me such grief, Charlotte?"

"Firstly, because even though I give you a right royal pain in the butt, you know I'm usually right, and secondly, I know more about Netherfield Publishing than anyone else here, except maybe you," she laughed back at him. "Now drink your coffee. Lizzy will be here in about ten minutes, and she ain't gonna like what you have to tell her."

Closing the door quietly behind her, she went and sat behind her desk again, a frown creasing her fine features. Charlotte had been Charles' personal assistant for four years now and she knew the last two years had been hell for him. Trying to get over his wife's death had been hard, but not nearly as hard as trying to be father and mother to a small boy who really needed two full-time parents. How Charles kept up the pace of running an international publishing house as well as looking after Robbie was a mystery to Charlotte. She shook her head. All she could do was try to help; it was up to Charles to make the final decision. That didn't mean, of course, that she had to like it. Still, she thought, now that the holidays are over, maybe Robbie starting back at school will take some of the load off him.

She heard the elevator "ding" and looked up to see Lizzy coming out of the lift. Lizzy was looking tanned and fresh, but still a little tense. Charlotte was worried about her friend. The divorce was over and it was time for Lizzy to move on. She needed to find a good man to care for her the way that prick of an ex-husband never had.

"Damn, girl! You look good! Life on a tropical island really seems to suit you."

Lizzy laughed at her friend's comment. Charlotte was one of the most refreshing people she knew - she never failed to make her smile even when she was at her lowest moments. Charlotte was about four years older than Lizzy and came across as a bit of a bully sometimes with her bossy, take charge attitude, but the reality was that she really cared about those close to her. Lizzy knew that from personal experience.

"Next time I'll take you too, Charlotte. You can drool over all the gorgeous married men on their honeymoons with me," she laughed.

"That won't worry me, honey. I have no intention of trapping that marriage noose around my neck. I'm quite happy just to look ... oh, and touch occasionally. Point me in the direction of the beach and the bar and I'll be just fine," she grinned.

Lizzy couldn't understand Charlotte's aversion to marriage. She was a gorgeous looking woman - 5'10" with the figure of a model, and had received 3 ... no, 4 proposals to date. Somehow she managed to avoid the altar each time, much to Lizzy's amazement. She shook her head at her and smiled.

"So, Charles wanted to see me?" asked Lizzy, getting back to the reason she was there.

"Look, Lizzy, I know you're probably not going to be thrilled with what he has to tell you, but go easy on him, okay? He's been up the last two nights with Robbie, and he looks and probably feels like something the cat dragged in."

"No worries, Charlotte. I'll be gentle. Robbie's okay now?"

"I'd say the worst is over. I'll just buzz Charles and let him know you're here." She leaned over to press the button on the intercom. "Lizzy's here, Charles."

"Send her straight in, Charlotte," came the scratchy voice on the other end.

Lizzy smiled at Charlotte as she opened the door.

Charles came around from the desk to give her a hug as she came in. "How was the holiday, Lizzy? I hope you're feeling fit and raring to go because I have a special job for you."

"I know you're giving me a new client to look after, Charles. Anyone I know?"

"Not someone you know necessarily, Lizzy, except by reputation. You remember that Mrs Smythe retired?"

"Hmmm. She was handling that writer that no one ever saw, the one that pumps out all that romantic drivel ... Elizabeth Courtois, wasn't it?"

"That romantic drivel pays half of the salaries around here Lizzy so don't knock it," chuckled Charles. "Anyway, I would like you to take over where Mrs Smythe left off. You're our best editor, and I have a feeling you two will really hit it off."

"Okay. So when do I get to meet her?"

"On Friday, but I thought if I told you now, it would give you a bit of time to familiarise yourself with the books and details surrounding the account."

"This is a bit too easy Charles. Where's the catch?"

Charles laughed. "You should stop listening to office gossip, Lizzy. Who said it had to be hard?"

"Well, I don't know. Why don't you tell me?" she smiled. "And why do I get the feeling that there's something you're not telling me?"

"Just wait till Friday. It's not as bad as you think, really. I have a feeling you'll be pleasantly surprised."

"Okey doke. Better go and start submerging myself in all that 'romantic drivel' then. You sure I can't have a mystery writer or something? I'm having a bit of a problem believing all that romantic guff these days."

"Go! I've got work to do," he laughed, shooing her out of his office. "Somebody has to get some work done around this place."

Lizzy decided to spend the nights leading up to her meeting with Ms Courtois reading over the lady's novels. If books of the romantic genre were your preference, then they were extremely well written - she would give her that. The emotions were woven with a gossamer touch, and she had been brought to tears more than once by the heady and often explosive mixture of angst, passion and unresolved sexual tension. Her problem, the hurdle she had trouble overcoming, was the whole theme running through them. It was obviously a highly successful formula by looking at the sales figures, but good grief! The men always seemed to be sensitive, but masculine, rugged types who swept the women off their feet with a mixture of charm, good looks and hot, multi-orgasmic sex. And Lizzy knew there were no real men out there who fit that description. The women, it seemed to Lizzy, were a complete mixture, although clichéd. Either sweet and innocent but unfortunately lumbered with a marshmallow brain so that their decisions were ruled purely by their emotions, or built like Elle MacPherson with an IQ of 160, and an inclination to analyze everything. Regardless, the "Me Tarzan, you Jane" theme that pre-dominated really pissed Lizzy off. Why is it that the women are always in need of rescue? And where does the perception come from that a woman can't survive without the love of a good man? she wondered. Why isn't it ever the other way around?

Gah! thought Lizzy. Either Ms Courtois isn't living in the real world, or she has never been involved with the men of today (which she suspected is the stronger possibility). She was about to go home for the day, but stopped by the pile of books next to her desk to select one for tonight's reading. Finally she decided on one, picked mainly for the photo on the cover - a tall, dark and brooding man with his arms around the barely clad heroine. At least this one looked like she had a brain. Forgetting the first maxim of book readers: 'don't judge a book by it's cover', she stuffed the book into her briefcase and left for the night.

She had cause to rue her choice later that night. This must be one of her earlier ones, she thought derisively as she closed the final page. Marshmallow brained, multi-orgasmic model type meets macho, muscle-bound male and rides off into the sunset to the strains of "Come on baby, light my fire," she thought drolly.

"Have you nearly finished brushing your hair and cleaning your teeth, Robbie?" called Mrs Chifley from the lounge room. "Your father will be ready to take you to school in a moment."

"Just about, Mrs Chiffy," yelled Robbie from the bathroom. He had never been able to say her name properly, and now she and Mr Bingley had given up trying. "My hair is stuck, and I can't get it unstuck."

"Good grief," sighed Mrs Chifley, walking through to his bathroom. She could see the problem immediately. Robbie had the same blonde curly hair his mother had been blessed with, but this morning his hair looked like he had stuck a finger in a power point - it was sticking out in a hundred different directions. Gently taking the comb out of his tiny hand, she wet his hair with some water first and then proceeded to tame it into some semblance of order.

"I hate curly hair!" said Robbie heatedly.

"Yes, but girls like boys with curly hair."

"And I don't like girls, either. The just want to touch my hair an' giggle a lot," he pouted.

"One day you will, Robbie. Just you wait and see," Mrs Chifley smiled down at Robbie who was looking back up at her with a distasteful expression.

His hair would put Shirley Temple to shame, thought Mrs Chifley, shaking her head. Still, in twenty years time, he probably wouldn't mind the girls touching it quite so much, she grinned to herself.

"You ready, Robbie?" called Charles from the kitchen.

"Comin' Dad. Did I tell you we'll be gettin' a new teacher today?"

"Get-ting, Robbie. And no, you didn't. Did you want to take an apple or something for her?"

"Why? Is she hungry?" asked Robbie innocently.

"Never mind," sighed Charles. "In the car, squirt. See you later, Mrs Chifley."

Fortunately, the school was quite close to home, so Mrs Chifley would be able to pick Robbie up in the afternoons.

They arrived at the school with twenty minutes to spare, so Charles and Robbie went in search of the new teacher. They found her in the classroom, mixing paints for the morning class. Feeling shy, Robbie grasped his father's hand and pulled closer to his leg, hampering his forward movement.


She looked up and Charles felt his heart miss a beat.

"Mr Bingley?" she inquired.

"Why, yes. How did you know?" he asked, surprised.

"I've met all the other parents this morning. And you must be Robbie?" she asked, squatting down beside the shy boy. Looking up to his dad for reassurance, Robbie nodded. "Hello, Robbie," she said tousling his hair. Standing back up, she said, "I'm Ms Brown, Mr Bingley, but please call me Jane. I'm Robbie's new teacher."

"Call me Charles, please." Noticing the absence of a wedding ring, Charles felt strangely relieved.

"How would you like to help me mix the paints this morning, Robbie. All the other kids are outside playing. I could really use some help."

Robbie's eyes lit up at the thought of helping. He loved painting.

"Well, I'll leave you to it, squirt," said Charles. "I'll pick you up this afternoon, okay?"

"I thought Mrs Chiffey would be picking me up, Dad?"

"Mrs Chiffey, Charles? If a non-parent is picking up the children, we really need an authorisation on that, for safety reasons you understand," said Jane.

"Mrs Chifley is my housekeeper, Jane. I'm a widower," said Charles softly.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Charles - I didn't realize."

Charles smiled shyly at Jane, and leaning down to Robbie, said, "I just remembered one of my meetings has been cancelled, so I'll be here at 3:30. Okay? See you then."

Grinning stupidly at Jane, Charles made to leave. Not looking where he was going, he bumped into one of the kiddie desks on his way out.

Jane waved and smiled at him, shaking her head as she donned an apron on Robbie.

"You're here bright and early, Boss. Everything okay?" asked Charlotte in surprise. "It's only," she looked at her watch to make sure, "8:45." Charles normally wandered in anywhere between 9:30 and 10:00.

"Things couldn't be better. Could you please bring my last appointment forward, Charlotte? I have to leave at 3:25 to pick up Robbie."

"I thought Mrs Chifley was doing that."

"I think it would be a good idea if I do, Charlotte; just until Robbie is comfortable with the new teacher."

"So, she's gorgeous, huh?" snickered Charlotte.

"Don't you have some work to do?" he asked, his colour rising at being so transparent.

The following days were very productive for Charles. Waiting with the gossiping mothers outside the school for the kids to be let off for the day, he had managed to find out the Ms Jane Brown was:

1. New to the area,
2. A wonderful teacher who had a fantastic rapport with all her students,
3. Divorced, and most importantly
4. Not seeing anyone.

Dropping Robbie off in the mornings gave him an opportunity to get to know Jane much better. Robbie obliged by running off as soon as they arrived to play with his friends. What a good kid! he thought with a smile. Whether it was the new teacher, or his new friends, he wasn't sure, but Robbie seemed a little less anxious lately than he had been in all the time since his mother's passing. It was time for them both to move on. Which brought Charles' thoughts back to Jane. As much as he wanted to, Charles was nervous about asking her out. He hadn't even thought about dating anyone since his wife's death, but Jane had captivated him. And what mattered even more to Charles was Robbie, and he was almost as besotted with his new teacher as his father was.

When he picked Robbie up that Wednesday afternoon, he was embarrassed in front of the mothers when his darling son artlessly asked, "So when're you gonna to ask her out, Dad?"

"What?" he asked, flabbergasted.

"Oh come on, Dad," said Robbie with a heavy sigh, "us guys can tell these things."

"We can?? Err, right. Look, lets head home now shall we?"

Fully aware of the chuckling of the other parents, Charles hurried Robbie to the car.

"So, are you gonna do it?"

"Do what, Robbie?" asked Charles uncomfortably as he helped strap Robbie into his seat belt.

"ASK Mz Brown OUT! What's wrong, Dad? Are you feeling okay?"

"I'm fine, Robbie. I just didn't expect to be having this conversation with my six year old son, all right? I will ask Ms Brown out ... soon."

"Okay, Dad. Did I tell you that we made dinosaurs today out of plasticene? Mine was better than Tommy's, and he got mad and smashed it. Mzz Brown made him give me his," he laughed.

Glad to be on a safer topic, Charles heaved a sigh of relief. Dinosaurs were something he could cope with much easier than his love life, especially with a six-year-old who was going on sixteen.

Still, tomorrow morning he resolved to ask Jane if she would go out with him on Friday night. As he walked Robbie into school, he went over in his head what he would say. Whoever said it was just like riding a bike had obviously never come a gutsa.

"Morning Mz Brown," chirped Robbie.

"How are you this morning, Robbie? Charles?"

"I'm good."

Charles stifled a small 'ouch' as a tiny foot stood on his. Glaring, he looked down at his son. "What?"

"Dad wants to ask you out, Mz Brown."

"Robbie!" whispered Charles to a smug looking Robbie. Jane covered her smile with her hand.

"Well you said ..."


"See ya, Dad," smiled Robbie, running off to play.

"I'm sorry about that, Jane. He's ... pushing."

"That's okay ... Um, was he right, Charles? Do you want to ask me out?"

"Would you like to, Jane? Go out, I mean? Tomorrow night? Dinner?"

"I would love to, Charles, but I've already arranged to go to the movies with one of my girlfriends. It's a bit short notice to change it. I hope you understand. Would the Friday after be okay?" she asked shyly.

"Perfect, Jane. I should have realised. I'm out of practise with this dating game," he admitted wryly. "Still, it will give me a whole week to look forward to it," he smiled.

"I have an appointment after school though. Would it be all right if I meet you there?


Where would you like to go? And what time?"

"Do you know The Boulevarde?"

"I sure do. It's only five minutes from where I live."

"Great. I'll see you there at 6:30?"

"That will be fine. See you then, Charles."

The intercom on Charles' phone buzzed.

"Yes, Charlotte?"

"Mr Darcy is here to see you."

"Great! Send him in."

Charlotte got up to open the door, but William stopped her. "It's okay, Charlotte, I think I know the way by now," he smiled widely.

Charlotte watched him walk into Charles' office and whistled silently to herself. If there is one man who could make me think twice about getting married, it's him, she thought. Whoa! What woman could say no to that?

She smiled at the closed door, and went back to her typing, humming to herself. She looked up as the lift opened.

"Lizzy girl!"

"Hey, Charlotte," Lizzy greeted her friend warmly. "Has Ms Courtois arrived yet? Having spent the last week reading all her books, I must admit I'm pretty curious to meet her. I just have to know where she gets the inspiration from for her stories."

"You like them, then?"

Lizzy laughed, "I was determined not to like them -- you know how I feel about romantic drivel." Charlotte raised her eyebrows sardonically. "But there is something about the way she writes that really gets to you. I am starting to become quite addicted. Or maybe it's just that my life is such a romantic desert at the moment, that they're filling a hole."

"Trust me, Lizzy, 'reading' about it is much safer than 'doing' it - not nearly as much fun, though," she winked.

"You're an evil woman, Charlotte," she grinned. "Can I go in?"

"In a minute, but before you do, here is the manuscript you'll be editing. Take it now - I may not be here when you finish your meeting," she said, looking at her watch. "By the way, did I tell you about that gorgeous guy I met at the bar downstairs last night?" she whispered.

Lizzy opened her briefcase and put the manuscript in, smiling as she leant over to hear news of Charlotte's latest fling.

Charles stood up to greet his friend. "So, Will, back from your little holiday in the sunny north? Did you have any fun, or was it all work and no play?" he winked.

Charles and Will had known each other since they were kids growing up together on Sydney's northern beaches. Charles was one of the few people who could get away with teasing him about his love life.

Will snickered at his friend's lame attempt to find out if he had met anyone. "Fun? I don't know what you mean, mate. You know I don't go there to relax. It's strictly work. No distractions."

"No distractions? None at all? Good God, man! Are you human? Beach, sun, tropical nights, beautiful women - what more could a guy ask for?" he laughed.

"Well they're mostly newly married women, which is just as well. At least I don't lose my focus. Which is why the book is now ready for editing. Isn't that what you want to hear?"

"Naturally. Which reminds me, Will. I've invited your new editor to join us this afternoon. I thought it would be a good time for you two to get acquainted, considering how closely you'll be working together."

"Is it a he or a she? You've been pretty damn secretive about it, you know."

"A she - and Elizabeth is our best editor, Will. I don't think you'll find it too much of a hardship working with her; she's a gorgeous looking lady."

"Please tell me she isn't one of those young, hard-headed career types. I just want someone who will look the book over and make a minimum of alterations and suggestions. What's this paragon's name anyway?"

"Elizabeth Bennet. And yes, she is young, but top draw, I assure you."

"Never heard of her. Your best, aye? Well, I'll let you know my decision on that. If you think you're going to lumber me with some nice looking bird who thinks she can change my story by flashing her assets at me, then think again Charles."

A sharp intake of breath coming from the office doorway caused both men to turn around. Halted there, eyes blazing, arms akimbo, stood Lizzy.

"You! What are you doing here, and how did you find me?" asked Lizzy, staring daggers at William.

"Lizzy! What? I have no idea what you're talking about. I could ask you the same question." William looked shocked at seeing her again when he had almost given up hope.

"Well, I work here. What's your excuse?"

"I'm a writer, Lizzy. Netherfield Publishing? You get the connection?"

"Oh, let me guess ... 'How to save your marriage in one easy step,' by William Darcy."

William winced. "Lizzy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean ..."

"Never mind," she dismissed him brusquely. "You wanted to see me before I go home, Charles?"

Charles was looking in confusion at the two people in front of him. They knew each other? This was news to him, but there was no mistaking the shock of recognition on both their faces.

"Err, Lizzy, you recall I mentioned you would be editing for Elizabeth Courtois?" He took in Lizzy's stony expression and gulped. "Elizabeth Courtois is William's pen name. William, this is Elizabeth Bennet." He stepped back and waited for the explosion.

They both looked shocked, but Lizzy was the first to speak. "You're a romance writer?" she gasped, and almost laughed. Suddenly the reality for her sank in. "Oh no. No, no, no. No way, Charles. It can't be. You can't mean …"

"Elizabeth Bennet? Lizzy is Elizabeth Bennet?" Will asked, looking at Charles in disbelief. "Charles? Is Lizzy my new editor?"

He turned back to see Lizzy grab her briefcase and go running out of the office. Angrily she punched the lift button and the doors opened. Will rushed into the lift just before the doors closed.

Charlotte walked into Charles' office and perched on the edge of his desk, a wicked smile on her face. "Okay, that went well. Sounded like a match made in heaven to me. What do you think?"

Charles flopped into his chair, dumbstruck, and looked at Charlotte blankly. "Did I just miss something, or can we assume those two have met before?"

"Oh, I think they've definitely met before. This is going to be a very, very interesting partnership. Way to go, Boss," she chuckled as she walked back to her desk.

Lizzy was furious. She looked at William standing there in front of her. Great! Now she was going to be shackled to him at work. His eyes had taken on that brooding look that rattled her.

"Lizzy, let me explain. I want to tell you how sorry I am. Please."

"No!" She was surprised to see him wearing a business suit that he irritatingly filled to perfection. He could be a model for Armani. And she was having trouble thinking straight with that damn aftershave filling the lift. "Just leave me alone."

"That's going to be a little hard considering you're now my editor, don't you think? Come on, all I want to do is apologize for what I said."

"If you think an apology will fix it William ..." she spluttered. "You hurt me. I ... I liked you. But it doesn't matter ... you're just like all the rest"

Leaning across, Will punched the 'stop' button on the lift. "I am nothing like the rest, Lizzy, and we are going to stay in here all night if we have to until we sort this out," he said, his eyes shooting sparks at her.

"Gee, William, do you think that maybe if I 'flash my assets' at you I might be able to change your mind?"

William flushed, realizing that Lizzy had overheard his remarks to Charles. But hell, that was before he knew who they were talking about! He watched Lizzy standing there with her hands on her hips, breathing quickly in her anger, and he moved toward her, trapping her up against the wall with his arms.

"Lizzy, I'm sorry. I was way out of line and I shouldn't have said what I said - it was unforgivable. I tried to apologize on the Sunday morning but you had already gone, and Maddie wouldn't tell me how I could contact you or where to find you."

Lizzy didn't know what to think. Yes, she had been angry, hurt, confused. He had spoken to Maddie? He had wanted to find her? William was so close; she could see the little spot on his jaw that he had missed shaving. And he was looking at her strangely. His eyes had taken on that dark, intense look she remembered from their walk on the beach just before he ... She inhaled sharply, her breath catching.

"Lizzy, we ..." Whatever he was going to say next fled his mind and all he could think of was how beautiful Lizzy looked when she was like this. Drawn to her like magnet, he leant down, his face moving closer and closer to hers until their lips touched. His breath was hot against her mouth; a silent groan - felt rather than heard, escaped his lips at the feeling of her soft mouth yielding under his. Tentatively deepening the kiss, he felt her lips slowly part under his, and encouraged, his tongue flicked out to taste the sweetness of her mouth. An electric shock went straight to his loins as he felt the soft flicker of her answering touch. Wrapping his arms around her he pulled her gently to him as he tasted her, teasing her lips as he explored every inch of her mouth. Her arms stayed still at her sides but her mouth betrayed her, reacting to his need with her own. Moaning against her mouth, he held her against his body, wanting desperately to make her feel how much he wanted her. But his pleasure was short lived when she suddenly pushed away, slapping his face as she did so, the sound of her hand striking his flesh resonating in the confined space.

"What was that for?" yelped Will in shock.

Lizzy punched the ground floor button and the lift started to move again. "Like I said, William, you're just like all the rest. Just leave me alone," she said sadly.

He watched her walk out of the lift. His cheek smarted where she had slapped him and he rubbed the tender flesh. What did she mean ... he's 'just like all the rest?' Dammit! He had never met a woman like her. She could make him so mad, sad, happy, infuriated, wild ... God, how he wanted her! Finally, comprehension dawned, a little late, but with startling clarity. She thinks I just want to take her to bed! He thought back over their interactions to date and his inability to keep his hands to himself and kicked himself for his stupidity. Slowly an incredulous smile spread across his face. He had found her. His heroine was back. And he was going to win her - end of story.

The drive home did little to settle Lizzy. She arrived tired and worn out, glad for once that her sister, Jane, was out. She had gone to the movies with a friend and wouldn't be home until late. Her thoughts were a confused jumble, and she didn't know where to start. Tossing her briefcase, she grabbed a beer from the fridge and, kicking off her shoes, scuffed out onto the balcony in her stocking feet, plopping down in the rattan chair, sighing deeply.

Thoughts of William on the island came flooding back - she had really enjoyed being with him. She had felt admired and beautiful, but more than that she had felt desirable - a feeling she hadn't felt in too long a time. But that fight on the beach … what a 'guy' he turned out to be. Her fragile, recovering ego had not been strong enough to cope with the sharp cuts inflicted by his harsh words.

Wandering inside, she grabbed a meal out of the freezer and put it in the microwave, reminding herself again that this was no way to stay healthy. At that particular moment, she didn't much care. She needed food to go with the beer, and it would do the job. With a beer in one hand and a plate of unappetizing but hot food in the other, she made her way through to the dining table, kicking her foot on her briefcase on the way. Glaring at it, she carried on, sitting at the table and starting to eat. She took one mouthful and curled up her mouth in distaste. Chicken Alfredo? Fine, I can see the Alfredo, but where the hell is the chicken, she thought. Her eyes traveled back to her briefcase. She stared at it. And ate. And drank. And stared. Finally, she went over and retrieved the manuscript, giving in with a sigh. You know what they said about curiosity, Lizzy-girl, she mumbled to herself.

Settling down on the lounge, she flicked over the top sheet, curious now to see what the story held. The title made her gasp: "Undesirable Stranger".

The story followed the standard format: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl fight, boy and girl get back together and have sex, and everyone lives happily ever after.

What kept Lizzy reading, way past the time when she should have been in bed asleep, was the adventures of the lady in the story. Her similarity to the heroine not withstanding (5'5", long chestnut hair, full-figured, divorced), it was her relationship with the hero of the story that kept her spellbound. A tall, dark-haired, stranger whom she tried valiantly to resist, apparently with little success ...

... Freed at last from the shackles of a loveless marriage, Eloise stood on the pinnacle of her new life. Her journey back into the wonders of singledom, however, would be short-lived if this man, the man who had loved, cherished, pursued and supported her through her tribulations had any say in the matter.

His love and desire for her had lain dormant, his hunger for her love unappeased, his role of friend limiting his actions. But the time for inaction was over - he could wait no longer.

Reaching for her in the semi-darkness of the cabin, his fingers wrapped around the silken flesh of her arm. She could feel the warmth of his breath on her as he lifted her curls and bent his head to nuzzle the skin on the back of her neck. Her soft sigh cut through the silence, the sweetness of the sound, music to his straining ears.

Turning to face him, she arched her neck as his tongue flicked her ear sending shivers down her body, before trailing down and following the curve of her jaw, leaving her trembling in his arms. She attempted to pull away, but grasping her curves against his throbbing hardness, he held her to him, his need making him reckless. Reaching a hand up to her beautiful face, his lips danced over her mouth, lightly, before consuming her, locking with her, not releasing her until both were breathless.

"Don't resist me, my love. You need me as much as I need you, and I will have you, sooner or later."

"You're very arrogant with your desires, Damien. You could have any woman you wished. You don't need me!"

"Why? Have you given up on love, or just the thought of love?"

"Can't you take no for an answer? I don't want you and I don't need you!"

Betrayed by her raging desires, she inhaled sharply as he trailed his fingers over her shoulders, deftly dropping the strap of her top and following its descent with his fingers, hastening its fall. Her skin, shivering in expectation, warmed under the touch of his lips as they trailed over her shoulders and down to her firm breasts. Taking a nipple in his mouth, he suckled lightly, his fingers teasing its mate to equal hardness.

"Stop me, Eloise. If you don't want me, stop me now, or you will be mine -- body and soul, and I will never let you go," he said huskily, his eyes dark and intense. "I have waited too long. Let me love you. Let me make love to you."

"It will take more than that to make me surrender my soul to a man!" she said.

"What would it take, dearest? What price your heart, your soul? You own mine already - I have nothing of value left to give …"

Deaf to her own whimpers of desire, she leaned into him, offering herself to him in a way that her words could not express. Restricted by the tightness of her light denim skirt, he ripped it quickly, popping the row of snap closures holding it together until she was left standing wearing nothing but lace and a wicked smile. Grasping the neck of his light cotton t-shirt, she ripped downward, exposing his chest to her wandering fingers. Wrapping her leg around him, she pressed her hips into his, igniting the fire in his loins.

Ripping the flimsy lace of her panties, he felt her core, wet and ready. Her hand snaked down to the bulge in the front of his jeans, it's tightness evidence of her effect on him, and flicking the straining studs open, she released his hardness from its restraint, his erection springing free. Running her fingers over the silky tip, she began to stroke it softly, before his hand stopped her, a low growl rumbling up through his chest. "Not … yet …" he panted.

Quickly divesting himself of the remainder of his clothes, he moved to her, scooping her up. Lifting her easily, his arm clearing a swathe across the table, he placed her down and parted her legs, teasing her moist folds with the tip of his cock.

"Tell me what you want, my love. I need to hear you say it."

"I want you…"

"What do you want, Eloise? Louder!"

"I want you, now, all of you, inside me," she screamed at him.

With an exultant moan, he buried his length in her hot depths. Thrusting against each other, they drove each other to the limits of ecstasy, her climax clenching over and around him as he shot into her.

"Now… dammit …Eloise … you are mine," he panted against her mouth. "Body and soul.

Lizzy dropped the manuscript. Feeling flushed and breathless, she walked to the bathroom, splashing cold water over her face, waiting for her breathing to return to normal. Why did she feel like she knew those two people? She shivered with the aftershock of emotion. Dazed and confused, she wandered into her bedroom, stripping her clothes and flopping onto the bed, her mind still full with the strength of the images he had evoked.

After a restless night, Lizzy dragged herself out of bed, grateful for the alarm breaking into her sleep in the middle of a dream. Picking up where the book had left off, the dream had unsettled her, Damien changing places with William Darcy and she with the heroine. After a long, steamy shower, Lizzy took time dressing, knowing she would need every advantage she could muster to get through the day. She decided on her red suit - hoping the strength of the colour would bolster her confidence enough to get her through today's confrontation.

Buzzing through the morning traffic in her little Rav4, she arrived at the office in record time. Grabbing the lift, she headed straight up to Charlotte.

"Could you please call Mr Darcy, Charlotte, and book him in for an appointment some time before lunch. Preferably as early as possible. This is one weekend I do not intend working right through."

"Let me guess, Lizzy. You read the manuscript last night, and now you can't wait to get him alone," teased Charlotte.

"Of course not. How ridiculous," she denied vehemently. "I just thought I might as well get this over with as quickly as possible. No point in prolonging the inevitable." Lizzy was becoming flustered, and left quickly for her office before sharp-eyed Charlotte saw too much.

"Right, Lizzy-girl." Methinks the lady doth protest too much, smiled Charlotte to herself.

The phone ringing broke through Lizzy's concentration on William's manuscript in front of her. The more she read, the more convinced she became that the woman and man were somehow familiar to her. The memory of her dream last night did nothing to ease the feeling.

"Hello, Lizzy speaking."

"Yes, this is Charlotte speaking. Just thought you'd like to know that Mr Dreamboat is on his way to your office."

"But Charlotte, it's only 9:00 - when did you call him? When you were eating breakfast this morning?"

"Hey, you said the earlier the better. My guess is that he was waiting for your call, honey. He must have liked what he saw yesterday. You just have time to freshen your makeup and fix up your hair," said Charlotte, hanging up quickly.

"Charlotte??" yelled Lizzy into a dead phone. Self-consciously touching her hair and straightening her skirt, she sat behind her desk, taking deep breaths.

Fifteen minutes later, he still had not arrived. Lizzy stood and started pacing her office, wearing a path from the window to the door. Finally exasperated, she placed her hand on the doorknob, just as the door opened from outside. William filled the doorway, assaulting her senses on many levels.

Covering her unease with anger, she barked at him, "Where the hell have you been?"

"Why, Lizzy? Did you miss me?" he smiled down at her. "These are for you," he said, brandishing a beautiful bunch of roses. Lizzy looked down stupidly at the flowers that had suddenly appeared in her hand. "And so is this," said William, lifting her chin to kiss her softly.

Chapter Three