The Weekly: an Australian weekly magazine for women

Niggled: to niggle is to irritate or annoy

"cut lunch and thermos walk": a colloquial phrase meaning a very long distance to walk

storeyed: a storey is a complete horizontal section of a building, i.e. a floor, so a multi-storeyed building would be one consisting of many floors.

'Pipped at the post': from horseracing, a term used to describe being beaten by a nose at the finishing post

dropkick: colloquial term referring to an extremely obnoxious person

'have a hide': refers to someone having a lot of gall

milkbar: a shop, often with an open front, where milk drinks, ice cream, sandwiches etc are sold (every town in Australia has at least one)

"Charles! Where are you, m'boy? The cavalry have arrived!" boomed a deep, hearty voice.

"As I am sure Charles and the rest of Meryton Place is aware by now, Rich," commented Will dryly as they opened the front door. "You've been caterwauling all the way up the street. Promise me you won't subject the rest of the party to those 80's and 90's musical flashbacks tonight."

"Well, you know as well as I do, that young Charles always needed our help to liven up a party. God, do you remember that somber bloody mess that was his eighteenth? It was dead as a doornail until you and I arrived. I seem to recall things became downright lively after that," he reminisced fondly.

"No doubt ably assisted by that bottle of rum you brought and the inglorious sight of you skinny-dipping in the pool in front of half the young ladies of Whale Beach. And, by the way, 'young' Charles is the same age as me and only three years younger than you, so don't go pulling rank."

"But as I keep telling you, Will - it's not the years, it's the experience that counts."

"Rrrrright. So that makes you the old fart, definitely," laughed Will.

"My experience, unlike yours, could give you plenty of fodder for those damn silly stories you write, Cousin," winked Richard, waggling his eyebrows. "You never did tell me how the hell you started on that bent."

"What do you know about my experience? I could be some sort of sex god for all you know," he joked. "But let's just say that my writing keeps me in touch with my feminine side," chuckled Will. "Not to mention of course that it makes me heaps of money."

"Which you don't need, Mr Money Bags. So why do it?"

"Because I enjoy it and I do it well. And it gives me an excuse to get out of Sydney and have a holiday four times a year."

"Bloody silly job for a man, if you ask me," muttered Richard.

"Oh, and photographing a bunch of anorexic, highly-strung models is preferable? Sure," teased Will. "Anyway, keep it under your hat, Rich. I don't want the whole world to know what I do for a living - I'd never live it down. Let's just find Charles, and then I want to check and see if Georgie has arrived."

They wandered in the direction of the noise out onto the wooden deck. Will pulled up quickly, Rich almost barreling into him, when he caught sight of an older woman with a pinched face off to the side, in earnest conversation with Charles.

"Oh shit! She's here."

"Who?" asked Richard, searching over the heads of guests in the direction of Will's glance until he saw the object of his comment. "Oh, 'Aunt' Catherine. Well, fair go, mate. You couldn't expect him not to invite his aunt - even if she is the most annoying old biddy on the planet. Is she still trying to set you up with Anne?"

"Unfortunately, yes. I mean, Anne's a lovely girl, but there just isn't any magic there, you know?"

"Personally I think you've been spending too much time writing those lovey dovey books. Anne's gorgeous. I wonder why Catherine had her heart set on you for her lovely daughter when she could have had me? Same dark good looks, great personality, same gene pool "

"Probably because you were never here, lucky bugger. Always jetting off somewhere with your camera and a toothbrush. Look, I'm going to go see if I can find Georgie. Let Charles know I'm here will you? Discreetly?"

"Sure thing, mate. I'll catch you up with you later," winked Richard.

He carried on over to Charles, slapping him on the back as he reached him. "Happy Birthday, mate. So, you've reached the age of consent finally?" he laughed.

"Richard! When did you get back? I wasn't sure if you would make it," said Charles, beaming at his good friend.

"Flew in last night. I could hardly miss the social event of the year, now could I?" he grinned. His tone quieted slightly as he turned to greet the formidable looking woman watching him closely. "Catherine," he stated, bowing slightly with mock formality in a style more reminiscent of an earlier time. "You're looking remarkably well."

"Compared to what?" she scoffed. "You haven't changed at least, Richard. Do you go anywhere without making an entrance?"

"But how would else would people know I've arrived?" laughed Richard with Charles with Catherine belatedly joining in.

"Look, I have to make a phone call, Rich. Would you keep Aunt Catherine company for a moment?" asked Charles.

"Sure thing, Charles. Off you go," said Rich, and turning to Catherine, he winked. "I had to come back for my yearly attempt to steal your daughter away," he teased. "What do you think my chances are this time around?" he niggled.

"Just you keep your hot little hands to yourself, Richard Fitzwilliam. You know she's spoken for."

"Oh, I didn't know she got engaged? Why wasn't I told?"

"It's William, you silly boy. You know that as well as I do. I've been watching those two since they were kids, and I know he's the one for Anne. He just needs time to sow his wild oats before he's ready to settle down."

"Um, I think he may have different ideas on that. Have you bothered to ask him?"

"He and Anne are meant for each other," she replied testily. "And anyway, he doesn't seem to be showing an interest in any other young ladies. I've been keeping tabs on him, you know. It won't be long now. He will realize that Anne is the one he is meant to be with," she said confidently.

"Well, I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, Catherine," he hedged carefully, "but I'm not sure that William shares your confidence. Don't you think you should let them work it out for themselves?"

"Neither of them is getting any younger, Richard. If something doesn't happen soon, I shall have to take matters into my own hands. William just needs a push in the right direction. And I intend to make sure that direction is toward Anne. Just you wait and see. Those two will end up together if it's the last thing I do."

Richard began to get a much better understanding of why Will had been so keen to avoid Catherine. He had always known how she felt, but she was starting to sound just a wee bit obsessed. Anne was a lovely girl - pretty, soft-natured, great fun to be around, but she was just not strong enough to stand up to her mother. Any bloke who took on Anne would be taking on the whole package, including Catherine, a daunting prospect for any man. It was a shame really. Richard had shared his first kiss with Anne when they were kids growing up together, and he felt a deep fondness for her which had transformed over the years into an almost brotherly affection. But he could see that Will and she just weren't meant to be together. Will needed someone a lot more challenging to keep him interested. Anne was too soft and pliant. Although after living with Catherine all these years, it was no wonder. The woman could be like a steamroller when she got her mind set on something.

"Hello, gorgeous," a soft voice whispered in his ear from behind.

Smiling widely, Richard spun round. "Anne! What a sight for sore eyes. Here, let me have a look at you," he said as he turned her around. "You just get more and more beautiful each time I see you. You ready to run away with me yet?"

"Just say the word, Richard."

"Anne!" exclaimed her mother.

"Oh, for heavens sake, Mum. This is just a game Richard and I play. God! He's like a brother to me, aren't you, darlin'. And besides, Richard is way too hot for me to handle," she winked at a now preening Richard.

"You are so right, my darling girl. My path is littered with the scorched remains of those who just couldn't take the heat."

"Oh, you two are insufferable," huffed Catherine, walking off.

Anne couldn't resist a chuckle, knowing it annoyed the hell out of her mother to see her like this with Richard of all people. Richard was one person she had never been able to get her way with, and she had been anxious on quite a few occasions that Anne and he might end up together. But that would never happen.

They watched her retreating back, both of them with relief.

"Are you still living with your mum, Anne?"

"Still," she sighed.

"Why don't you leave? Move out on your own."

"I can't leave her, Rich. Mum comes across as a tough old bird, but she really needs someone. I was going to move out about 12 months ago, but she started getting these anxiety attacks, and I would feel guilty leaving her now. What if something happened to her and no one was there?"

"Honey, your Mum is only 65 and will probably outlive us all. You can't just put your life on hold - that's not fair to you. What if some nice guy comes along and sweeps you off your feet?"

Anne's head drooped, and a mild blush spread over her face.

"What?" asked Richard, lifting her chin so that she had to look at him. "Tell me."

"You know, Rich. There will only ever be one guy for me. I've been in love with your cousin since we were teenagers. I just keep hoping "

Richard didn't have the heart to tell her that her dream would never reach fruition. They had had this conversation before to no avail. Some people just couldn't be told - they had to find out the hard way. He reached out to put his arms around her, hugging her close.

Even with the aid of the street directory, the three occupants of Lewis' car still managed to get more than just a little bit lost. Lewis had long since decided that all the things they said about women being backseat drivers and reading maps was definitely true. He had managed to use almost a quarter tank of fuel, and they still weren't at their destination. He pulled over under a streetlight, determined to set them on the right path.

"No offence, ladies," he said to Lizzy and Jane, "but if we want to get to this shindig before everyone leaves, I think you had better hand over the map, Jane."

"Are you insinuating that I can't read something as simple as a map, Lewis?" asked Jane with a grin.

"Not at all. I would just like to arrive sometime in this century," he teased. "I'm sure you would get us there eventually. There can only be about 50 streets we haven't tried yet. I'm just suggesting we try a more direct route. By the way, Jane, which is your left hand?"

Jane held up her right hand and then quickly put it down in embarrassment and held up her left hand.

"Hmmm, well, that explains it," said Lewis with a laugh.

Lizzy chuckled loudly from the back seat, much to Jane's consternation.

"And that will be enough out of you, little sister. It's a cut lunch and thermos walk to get home you know," Jane laughed. "Oh, what can I say - I'm nervous "

"Jane, you silly goose," sighed Lizzy. "Are you worried about meeting all Charles' friends? Don't you know they'll love you?"

"Yes I am worried, Lizzy. This is a big step in our relationship. I don't want to spoil things."

"Is that why you didn't tell Mum and Dad they were invited, Janie? Scared of what might happen when Mum finds out he's interested and loaded?" asked Lizzy, teasing.

Jane rolled her eyes. They both knew there was more truth than humor in Lizzy's question. Jane and Lizzy were two of five daughters to Mr and Mrs Bennet. Of the other three, Mary was happily married to Michael and was the only daughter to have successfully made the transition from wife to mother. The youngest two, Kitty and Lydia, were still up for grabs in the marriage stakes, which was the only reason for Mrs Bennet's current leniency regarding Lizzy and Jane. Divorced equalled damaged goods to Mrs Bennet, and she felt she had a much better chance of arranging the marriages of her two remaining virginal daughters.

What she didn't know of course, sailing along in blissful ignorance as she was, was that Kitty had fled overseas twelve months ago as soon as she turned twenty-one and finished University, anxious to escape her mother as much as from a desire to live abroad. She had witnessed the carnage her mother had wrought over her two older sisters, and had no desire to be caught up in the same trap. She now spent her time living in New York (which she felt was a nice, safe distance from her mother so that the likelihood of her ever dropping in unannounced was remote), working as a journalist attached to an Aussie rag, and living with a very nice young man called John who would never be likely to meet Mrs Bennet in this lifetime or any other if Kitty had anything to do with it. Mrs Bennet was under the illusion that Kitty had a frisky cat as a companion, an illusion that Kitty went to great pains to promote.

Lydia, on the other hand, was a problem. Eighteen, just out of high school, she spent most of her time getting into trouble - mostly with the opposite sex. A virgin she most definitely was not! To make matters worse, she had lately discovered, now that she was of legal age, that the consumption of alcohol releases the inhibitions - as if she needed any help in that area.

Mrs Bennet was solely focused on matchmaking, money and marriage (not necessarily in that order) for her youngest, whereas Lydia was more intent on dates, drinking and dicks (also not necessarily in that order).

Even though she was their sister, Lydia couldn't have been more different from her older sisters. She had little time for them and, quite frankly, they were disgusted with her, and with their mother for encouraging her. Needless to say, at this delicate point in their relationship, the only members of her family that Jane felt certain she could safely invite to Charles' party were Lizzy and Mary. Lizzy was single and here, Mary was married and not. Jane was quite content.

During her ruminations, it appeared that, without the stellar help of Jane's misguided and misleading directions, Lewis had found that for which they had been searching. They turned into Meryton Place and drove slowly until a large, well-lit No. 9 appeared. The sign on the gate said "Netherfield", so they assumed, quite correctly, they had arrived.

The vibrating, melodic ring of a mobile phone broke through the silence in the car. Lunging for her handbag, Jane dug around until she found the little phone.

"Hello, this is Jane."

"Where are you, Love? Everyone's here and they're all dying to meet you."

"Charles? We are at the end of the driveway. We got a bit lost. Actually, I got us a bit lost. Sorry. We'll be right there."

"Okay, I'll wait for you at the front door. I've missed you," he said softly.

"I've missed you too, Charles," said Jane quietly, aware of the other occupants of the car trying unsuccessfully to ignore the conversation.

"See you soon."

Jane pressed the button to end the call, and smiled to herself.

"What was that?" exclaimed Lizzy.

"What?" asked Jane and Lewis in unison.

"That siren. Hang on, I think it must be the Mush Police," she laughed.

Jane blushed, but smiled at her younger sister. "You're just jealous. Wait until it's your turn. Boy, what fun will I have then!" she laughed back.

"I think it's adorable, Janie. I just can't wait to see Charles' face though when finds out who your sister is. That's going to be a Kodak moment!"

Driving slowly up the long, tree-lined driveway, the three occupants of the Volkswagen Beetle finally caught sight of a sprawling, multi-storeyed, architect-designed house peeping through the verdant greenery. Slowing the car to a stop, they all stared, open-mouthed at the 'beach house' in front of them. A 'cottage' it definitely was not!

9 Meryton Place

In silence, they looked for a space to park and managed to squeeze a space under one of the sheltering boughs lining the drive, nestled between a Porsche and a Lexus.

Lizzy looked around her at the luxury cars lining both sides of the driveway and stifled a smile at the contrast in their own mode of transportation. Jane was looking a little worried and Lewis slipped his arm around her as they walked towards the partially hidden front door, hugging her lightly.

"Who knows, Cinderella? Maybe at midnight my little Beetle 'pumpkin' will turn into a gleaming Porsche 'carriage' to take you home."

"It's not that, Lewis," she smiled, "but thanks for the trying to relax me."

"What does your Prince Charming drive, by the way?" he joked to her.

"I have no idea," she suddenly realized. "Do you know, Lizzy?"

"Some kind of big 4WD. A Nissan, I think. Nothing too flash."

Sounds of music and merriment filtered out over the deck and through the huge windows above.

front door

They walked up to the front door and just as Jane was about the ring the bell, the door opened from within.

"Jane!" beamed Charles, hugging her to him. "What took you so long? I thought you must have become lost. Did you have trouble finding the place?" He peered out into the semi-darkness and thought he noticed a couple of people with her, but the overhanging palms obscured his vision slightly.

"We would have been here much quicker if the navigator, meaning me, hadn't been having so much trouble with her sense of direction. But I would like you to meet my partner-in-crime. I believe you two have met," she said with a wink. "This is my little sister, Lizzy."

Lizzy stepped forward out of the slight shadow cast by the foliage.

"Lizzy!" cried Charles with pleasure. Suddenly, the realization hit him. "You and Jane are sisters?" He looked from Jane to Lizzy and back again. "But you two look nothing alike. Hmmm, you have some explaining to do, Miss Jane, like why you didn't tell me who your sister is, and how does one family manage to have not one, but two such raving beauties. And as for you Lizzy, that had better be the only secret you're keeping from me?"

They all laughed as the awkwardness of the moment passed.

"And this is Lewis Welch, Charles. He teaches at my school, and luckily for us, chauffeured us here tonight. If it had been left up to Lizzy or me, we'd still be driving around in the dark," she commented dryly.

"Hi, Lewis," said Charles, extending his hand. "Nice to meet you. Glad you got the ladies here safe and sound."

"Just don't ever give Jane a road map," laughed Lewis. "Suffice to say we took the scenic route getting here."

"Okay, okay," sighed Jane, smiling as they all laughed. "Enough, already."

"All that matters is that you're here," said Charles, gazing at her fondly. "Lizzy? Lewis? I'm sure you can find your way through the house. Make yourselves at home. Charlotte is over at the bar showing the bartender how to make some obscenely named cocktail, I think. And I need to borrow Jane for a bit. There are some people who have been dying to meet her," he said excitedly, taking her arm and steering her away in the direction of the garden out back. Lizzy and Lewis wandered through the rooms that all offered breathtaking panoramic views of the beach and surrounds, moving through the open plan living areas spilling out onto a wide deck that surrounded the entire rear of the house.

Open Plan Living Area Living Room

Pool and Deck View from Deck

Here they found Charlotte gazing out at the moonlit sea, twinkling in the brightness of the moon's rays.

Charlotte cast a speculative, appraising eye over Lewis as the introductions were made, but reserved her comments until he had excused himself to fetch them a drink.

"Hmmm, Lizzy. I imagine with the right 'attention', your friend Lewis could be quite a handful," she mused, laughing at Lizzy's surprised expression. "Surely I don't still have the power to shock you? Hey, it's only girl talk. Don't worry - I won't embarrass you. Did you bring Lewis as your date?"

"No, Charlotte. He works with Jane and came as her friend."

"Good. Because I happen to know who is on the guest list for this evening," she teased, winking theatrically. Lizzy couldn't fail to guess her meaning.

"So with all these party animals like you here, why were you standing here looking so reflective when we arrived? It's very unlike you."

"I have been contemplating the fact, Lizzy, that Charles has a great dearth of attractive male friends. What I wouldn't give for a half decent drop of throbbing manhood to come through that front door. With the exception of Lewis, of course."


"Lizzy? Lizzy Bennet? Is that you?"

Lizzy turned at the sound of the strangely familiar voice calling to her over the sound of the music. She searched over the heads of those nearest to her to see a tall, rugged, and very attractive man clearing his way through the crowd. Her eyes lit up as she recognized the face.

"Who is that?" whispered Charlotte excitedly. "What a gorgeous hunk of testosterone! And how do you know him, or more importantly, how does he know you?"

"Thanks, Charlotte. What exactly are you insinuating?" Lizzy asked smiling.

Charlotte was unable to get in a suitable reply before Lizzy was grabbed in a big bear hug, swept off her feet and twirled around.

Lizzy laughed, the happy sound drifting above the noise of the party.

"Put me down, Richard," she admonished playfully.

Richard lowered her, smiling widely, planting a huge kiss on her before letting her go, breathless and laughing.

"How have you been, Lizzy? It seems like years. And you look more beautiful than ever," he smiled at her.

"It has been years, five to be exact. And you haven't changed a bit, Richard. Still gorgeous," she laughed up at him.

"So where's Andrew Allen what's his name? That scoundrel who stole you away from me and left me heartbroken?"

"I hardly think that was likely," scoffed Lizzy playfully. "As I recall, you had women falling all over you. I had to beat them off with a stick." They laughed together for a moment before Lizzy's face turned more serious. "Anthony and I are divorced now. Earlier this year in fact, and personally I don't care where he is, as long as it's nowhere near me."

He took Lizzy's hands in his and looked at her intently. "Did he hurt you, Lizzy? Just say the word and I'll beat him to a pulp."

"You'd do that for me?" said Lizzy, surprised.

"Well, not me personally of course, although I could. The man was a wimp. But I know people " he demurred.

Lizzy laughed. "My brave knight! It really has been too long, Richard. It's so wonderful to see you again. But what are you doing here? Do you know Charles?"

"Know him? We're practically family. Charles, my cousin and I were pretty inseparable growing up. My parents own one of the properties down the road. So, how do you know the birthday boy?"

"I work for him at Netherfield Publishing. I switched over to book editing a few years back after I left The Weekly. Much more my style than the frantic pace of the magazine world. And you?"

"I'm freelancing now. Got a bit tired of the restrictions of the magazine. I like the freedom to go where and when I want."

A discreet cough and a soft dig in her ribs caused Lizzy to turn around. "Oh, sorry. Richard Fitzwilliam, may I introduce my good friend, Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte is Charles PA."

Taking Charlotte's hand, he leaned over gallantly to kiss it. "The pleasure is all mine, I assure you," he winked.

"Well, that would be a big disappointment," Charlotte said with a wink in return.

Her meaning not lost on him, Richard raised an eyebrow and smiled at her. Watching the two of them together, Lizzy stifled a grin. If ever two people deserved each other, it was these two. Both determined never to settle down, each with a voracious appetite for life; the fireworks could be quite impressive, she thought to herself. As Richard and Charlotte stood there, gazes locked, Lizzy quietly slipped away.

"I thought you said people were waiting to meet me, Charles? Where are we going?"

"I wasn't kidding, Jane, but there are a couple of stops we need to make first. There is someone who wants to see you who can't come down to the party," he said as he opened the door to one of the bedrooms, the dim glow of a 'nite lite' throwing a soft light into the hallway.

"Jane?" a little voice asked in the semi-darkness.

"Robbie? Are you still awake, Sweetie?" asked Jane as she moved to the bed. Her attention was caught by the noise of a thumping tail on the bed, and she noticed Buster was awake too on the end of the bed.

"I told Dad he had to bring you here first before you go and play with the grown-ups." Jane tousled his hair affectionately. "Will you be here tomorrow? Please?" he asked plaintively.

"I'm not sure, Robbie," she said risking a quick glance at Charles. "We'll see, okay."

"Well, I hope you are. The grown-ups have all the fun. It's not fair."

"Time for you to go to sleep, Squirt. I'll see if I can talk Jane into having a sleep-over. Okay?"

"Okay. Night, Dad. Night, Jane," he said sleepily.

Jane leaned over to kiss the top of his head, and they backed quietly out of his room, shutting the door gently as they left.

"One more stop, Jane," he whispered as he led her into a room down the hall.

"What? More kids? Have you been holding out on me, Charles?" she smiled at him in the semi-darkness.

"Only one big one," he whispered as he closed the door. "I want to show you the view in the master bedroom," he said as he took her in his arms.

The re-emerged many moments later, Jane smoothing her skirt and Charles running his fingers through his hair.

"Nice view, Charles," said Jane innocently.

"Yeah, but you should see it in the daytime," he replied and they both laughed.

Master Bedroom

"So, Will, do I get to meet the mystery woman tonight?"

"I don't know if she's coming, Georgie. I know that Charles was going to invite her, but I haven't spoken to him since I got back from Melbourne today, so I don't know who's going to be here."

"You mean you haven't even said 'hello' to the birthday boy yet? Let me guess, you saw Catherine and ducked off?"

Will laughed. "For a little sister, you're amazingly intuitive sometimes, you know that?"

"It wasn't too hard to figure out. She waylaid me earlier on and asked specifically if you were coming and what time you would be arriving, like I'm your secretary or something. But this little sister has one more bit of advice for you. If you want to know if your lady is coming tonight, why don't you go and ask Charlotte. She would have been in charge of the guest list, surely?"

Will hugged Georgie. "Why don't I ask your advice more often? You're just too clever."

"Good question. Better answer, big brother. Now go. Go, and find Charlotte."

"But "

"I'll be fine, Will - I'm a big girl now. Besides, you're scaring off all the talent. Off you go. Just bring her to meet me, will you? I have to see what it is about this girl that has you jumping through hoops."

"Okay, Sis - back in a minute."

Will walked off, stopping at the bar as he went, looking around for Charlotte as he waited for his drink. Instead of Charlotte, he spotted the one woman in the world he really wanted to see. Standing alone by the pool in a soft lilac swish of georgette was Lizzy. As he reached to grab his drink, he stopped as he saw that man again. It was the one Lizzy had been with at the movies. He was sure of it. What was he doing here? She wouldn't have brought that bloke surely? Why on earth would she bring a date? She must have known he would be here?

Sullenly, he watched the two, eagerly seeking a sign that they weren't together. The man with Lizzy showed no signs of leaving her side, and Will's worst suspicions appeared to be confirmed. Brooding, he picked up his drink and walked off.

"Just do it, Anne," said Catherine firmly. "Unless you want to see Will end up with some other woman, go over and make yourself known. Look, he's over there talking to Georgie."

"But, Mum, I hate feeling like I'm throwing myself at him."

"Well, the 'stand back and let it happen' approach isn't working, my dear. He's like all men - none of them really know what they want until we tell them."

Catherine sighed in exasperation. She was not about to let some other woman come along and steal Will right out from under their noses. He and Anne belonged together and she was determined that they would be together. She discreetly pushed Anne in his direction. "Go on, move it! And try to look attractive, for God's sake. No man wants to be seen with a woman with a long face. Perk yourself up, girl!"

Lewis was engrossed in conversation with a couple who had joined them, and Lizzy's attention wandered as her eyes roamed around the deck. She did a double take when she noticed the familiar figure standing on the other side of the pool. She would know that tall, well-built frame anywhere and she felt a rush of warmth flood through her until she spied his companion. She didn't recognize the gorgeous looking blonde he had his arm around, though. She watched in surprise as he leaned down and intimately kissed the top of her head, and felt a jolt go through her body, which was magnified by the adoring gaze the woman gave him. So surprised was she that she didn't have the time or the sense to look away, and was caught like a deer in headlights as he turned casually and caught her looking open-mouthed in their direction.

The smile fell from his face as he caught her eye, and he looked away again, obviously ignoring her. Confusion raced through Lizzy as she recalled their last contact at his home. What had happened? And who was that woman?

Lewis cut into her ruminations to ask if she would like to come with him on a tour of the house with the other couple. Absently, she said, "No, thanks". She was a little confused by William's reaction to her and just wanted to think. She wandered around the deck to the steps leading down to the garden.

Will noticed her go by herself and looked around for her companion. Not seeing him, he excused himself and took off after her, anxious to speak with her alone.

"Lizzy?" he said softly, coming up behind her. His hands lifted to touch her bare shoulders, but dropped again.

"Yes, William," she said, her back still turned. Her emotions were in turmoil, and she took a moment to compose herself from the unsettling effect his voice saying her name had on her. Sighing as she steeled herself for the effect his closeness and the intensity of his gaze would have on her, she turned around to face him deciding that a professional approach was probably safest.

"It's so lovely to see you again, William. When did you get back? I'm sure Charles must be glad you could make it."

This business-like conversation was not the one he wanted to be having with Lizzy. "It's great to see you too, Lizzy. I've been thinking about you since that last night at my place. Can think of little else, actually," he admitted. The warmth in his eyes traveled at warp speed through her body all the way down to her toes.

"There is someone very special I would like you to meet, Lizzy. Would you mind?"

"Sure, William."

"I'll just go get her. Don't move, okay?"

Her? thought Lizzy. Oh, great. I'm going to meet the new woman in his life.

Her instinct was to bolt in the opposite direction, but instead, ignoring William's direction, she wandered back up the stairs to the deck, watching uncomfortably as William brought over the stunning blonde she had seen him with earlier. Compared to her, Lizzy felt short and dumpy. This night is certainly going from bad to worse.

"Elizabeth Bennet, I would like you to meet Georgie, my sister. Georgie, this is the woman I have told you so much about."

"Your sister? But I thought " she started, stopping as Will and Georgie exchanged a small smile. "No, never mind what I thought. It's lovely to meet you, Georgie. Please - call me Lizzy."

"You have no idea how much I have been looking forward to meeting you. Will has told me so much about you."

He has? Lizzy thought. Surprised, she struggled to think of something to say.

"And all of it was too good to be true. I was starting to think you were a figment of his active imagination. He tells me that you're his new editor? I can imagine he's quite a handful."

"Like you have no idea " said Lizzy, rolling her eyes and winking at Georgie. Will guessed the meaning of her words and looked away, valiantly attempting to hide the smile that creased his features. The movement was not lost on the ladies and they laughed together.

"If I were you, Lizzy, I wouldn't let him get away with anything. Knowing my brother as I do "

Just then, they were interrupted by a woman who linked her arm with Will's in a most possessive manner.

"Will!" the woman said, reaching up to kiss him on the cheek. "It's been ages. Why didn't you come over and say 'hello'? You're not ignoring me are you? Hi, Georgie," she said belatedly.

"Hello, Anne," they both said.

"Aren't you going to introduce me to your little friend, Georgie?"

Will looked embarrassed as he saw the look of shock flitter across Lizzy's face, and answered quickly, attempting to defuse Anne's belittling question. "Anne, this is my friend, Lizzy Bennet. She works with Charles. Lizzy, this is Anne De Bourgh. We grew up together here as kids."

"We were all so close, weren't we, Will?" she smiled, hugging his arm closer.

Lizzy stiffened slightly at the sight of Anne snuggling into William.

"Can I borrow you for a minute, Will. There are a few of the gang from the old days who are dying to see you. I'll have him back soon, girls," she said as she dragged him off.

Georgie discreetly noticed the way that Lizzy's eyes followed Will and Anne across the room. She felt for her. It was obvious that she had feelings for her brother even if she hadn't admitted them to herself or Will yet.

Georgie leaned in to Lizzy's ear, whispering, "Will and Anne dated for a short while. Nice girl, but her mother drives Will crazy. She's a really pushy old bag, and seems convinced that Will is the only woman for her Anne."

"Oh," said Lizzy. "Which one is the mother?"

Georgie cast her eyes around the room before spotting Catherine talking to a group of older people at the other end of the deck. "See that woman over there in the cream silk number?"

"You mean the one who looks like a throwback to the fifties?"

Georgie laughed. "Yep, that's her. Charles' Aunt Catherine. A real tough old bitch. I wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of her, that's for sure. She scares off any guy that comes within 6 feet of Anne. She wants Will for her Anne, and that's that. I don't know why Anne puts up with her."

Their conversation was temporarily interrupted as they were joined by Lewis who had finished his wander through the house. Lizzy made the introductions, and they settled back into conversation about the house. Lewis was very impressed with the gym downstairs, and chattered on amiably. As Georgie watched, she could see from the way he focused on her, that Lewis was more than a little smitten with Lizzy, even though she showed no signs of even being aware. Georgie wondered if Will was aware that he had a competitor for Lizzy's affections. She noticed the relaxed and easy relationship between Lewis and Lizzy, and thought to herself that if he wasn't careful, her brother was going to get pipped at the post by Lewis.

Free of Anne, Will made his way back to Lizzy, but slowed down his progress when he noticed she wasn't alone. Still, Georgie was there as well, so not too much damage could be done. He leaned against the bar, sipping slowly on a drink while he waited for her to be free.

"Hey mate," said Rich, slapping Will on the back. What are you doing standing here all on your own?"

"Just enjoying the view," said Will cryptically.

"Why aren't you dancing then? There are enough gorgeous looking women here tonight to sink a ship. Why don't you grab one of 'em and 'shake your groove thang, baby'?" he said in a woeful imitation of an American accent. "C'mon, get out there and show us what you're made of."

Will threw his cousin a disdainful look. "Shake my what?? In front of all these strangers? I don't think so."

"Well, you can't just stand here holding up the bar all night. Hang on, I know. I have the perfect girl for you to meet."

"Who?" asked Will suspiciously.

His eyes lit up at the sight of Lizzy walking over in their direction behind Will. "An old girlfriend of mine. She's gorgeous, and as far as I know, unattached."

"Why on earth would I want to dance with one of your rejects? No thanks, mate. I know your taste in women, and believe me, I've seen better - much better."

"Okay then, but I'll introduce you anyway. Right behind you Will, is the first and so far the biggest love of my life, Miss Lizzy Bennet. Lizzy, this goof-ball with his foot in his mouth is my cousin, Will Darcy, and I do believe he is looking for someone to ask to dance," he winked at her.

Will nearly choked on his drink, and spluttered and coughed, trying to get his breath back. He turned around to see a smiling Lizzy, eyes crinkling, looking at him.

"Cough it up, boy. That's the way," laughed Richard, slapping his cousin on the back.

"Nice to see you too, Will," said Lizzy, "but thanks all the same - I'll pass on the dance. I wouldn't like people to think that one of your cousin's 'rejects' was the best you could do. Actually, Richard, I came to see if you would like to dance. Wanna give it a shake, old guy?" she laughed as she shimmied up to him.

"A bit less of the 'old guy' and baby, I'm yours," he laughed as he swung her away.

Will stood there, quietly gasping to get his breath back, still shaken by the knowledge that his cousin Richard and his Lizzy knew each other, and what's more, they had gone out together! What the hell???

He stood and watched them dance through a seemingly endless stream of songs, envious of the familiar way that Richard was holding her. And Lizzy - she was sparkling. It was obvious they were more than just good friends, very obvious. Will started to feel more and more uncomfortable watching the way they moved together, and turned away, ordering another Jack Daniels from the barman to wash down the bitter taste in his throat.

Finally, his torment ended and Richard sat down beside him on a bar stool, grabbing for his beer.

"Man! But doesn't she look wonderful," said Richard, turning to nudge his cousin on the arm. He missed the darkening glower being thrown his way. "I don't know about you, Will m'boy, but I just lurve the feel of a woman with a bit of flesh on her and boy, oh boy, does Lizzy feel good!"

"Where is Lizzy now?"

"She's gone back to join Georgie and her date, I think."

"He isn't her date."

He turned to look at his cousin, not failing to miss the increasingly ominous look in his eyes.

"Whoa, there, big guy," said Richard to his furious cousin. "You wanna tell me exactly what is going on here, because I think I may have missed something."

"How do you know Lizzy?" growled Will.

"I took some photos of her years back. We were working on the same magazine at the time. She was an assistant editor. She was, oh, about 20, I think. We went out for about six months before she met that dropkick husband of hers. Never could understand how she could resist the Fitzwilliam charm," he winked at Will. "Fell in love with her. I think it was the eyes. They draw you in, you know."

"Yes, I do know, Richard. And?"

"And what? Do you know Lizzy, Will? Is there something you need to tell me because I'm feeling just a little in the dark here "

"Lizzy is my editor."

"Well, thanks for that. That explains absolutely nothing."

Reluctantly, he proceeded to fill Richard in on the story of their hit and miss 'relationship'.

"So you want to drop Lizzy as your editor and marry her?"

"I didn't say anything about marrying her, Rich."

"Not in so many words, mate, but I know you Tell me you haven't thought about it "

Will just glared in his cousin's direction and remained silent.

"So what are you going to do about it? Apart from drowning yourself in that glass," he said, removing it from Will's fingers and placing it on the bar.

"Tell me about Anthony," said Will.

"Let me see a total arsehole, great with the ladies, good looking in a prissy kind of way I suppose, couldn't keep his dick in his pants, you know the type."

"So I take it you didn't like him?" Will smiled.

"Lizzy and I had broken up about four months before she and he met. We were both too absorbed with our careers I guess, to make room for each other. She met Anthony while I was away on a shoot and by the time I got back they were engaged. Blind Freddie could see they weren't suited. In fact everyone but Lizzy, and she didn't want to hear it. He was from a pretty wealthy family as I recall - typical rich kid who, unlike you and I, didn't work, and couldn't understand why Lizzy wanted to work and not stay home looking after him. So while she worked, he played, if you know what I mean. Everyone knew, except Lizzy I guess. And she wouldn't hear a bad word said about him. Lizzy and I lost touch though when I moved to Melbourne and she got married. This is the first time I've seen her since."

He noticed Will's glum look and decided to shake him up a bit. "Look mate, don't just hang around here looking like some lovesick fool. Swallow that damn Darcy pride and go and tell the lady what you're thinking before some other guy snaps her up. Have a look around - there are plenty having a good look at the merchandise. Anyway, I see a lady that I personally would like to know a little better, and I'm not waiting around to see some other bloke grab her first," he winked as he spotted Charlotte heading down into the garden - alone. "Now go. Catch you later."

Will's problem was that he didn't want to appear to be smothering Lizzy. She had pulled back on other occasions, and he knew that around her, his usual rigid control became as slippery as a sausage on a hot barbeque. But he needed to talk with her - alone. So he wandered through the house in search of her. Eventually he found her, standing inside the conservatory looking out at the rest of the partygoers.

"Hey you," he said softly, coming up behind her and putting his hands gently on her shoulders. "I'm so sorry. Can you forgive me?"

"Forgive you? What for? Calling me a reject?" she laughed. "Oh, William, don't be silly. I could see and hear that Richard was stirring you up. And your expression was classic when you realized that Richard was talking about me. If only you could have seen it."

He awkwardly smiled with her, relieved that he had escaped relatively unscathed from another faux pas. "So, who are you hiding from in here?"

"Not hiding so much, just looking for a bit of quiet. I'm not one for big parties usually. All the noise gets to me after a while. I wasn't sure if you'd be here tonight," she said, leaning back into him.

"There's only one reason I came," he said, kissing the top of her head and moving his arms down to enfold her in a loose cuddle. "How could I stay away if I knew you were going to be here? You look beautiful tonight, Lizzy."

She smiled to herself, relaxing into the intimacy of the moment.

"I missed you, Lizzy. Did you miss me just a little bit?"

She turned in his arms, looking up, her eyes and lips smiling at him.

"May I?" he asked softly as his mouth descended slowly to hers.

"Mmmm," was the only reply she had either the time or inclination to make.

"Not bad. Kiss me again William, and I'll let you know," she teased mischievously.

He leaned down once more to touch her lips and Lizzy felt a tingle go through her at his touch. When he finally pulled away, he looked at her questioningly.

"Hmmm - I think we can say that's a yes," she smiled.

The sound of some heavy coughing behind them broke their shared reverie.

"I said a cough, Charles, not a choke," whispered Jane.

"I hope we're not interrupting anything," said a red-faced Charles. "But I wasn't sure if you've met the new lady in my life, Will." Lizzy smiled conspiratorially. "Will, this is Jane Brown, and Jane, this is my best friend, William Darcy. I'm sure you've heard of him," he grinned. Will looked confused, and looked at Lizzy to see if she had any idea what Charles was talking of. "Jane's maiden name is Bennet, Will."

Will looked in surprise and then looked at Lizzy again, who was unsuccessfully trying to stifle a chuckle.

She laughed finall. "Jane is my older sister, William. Jane, this is the man I told you about. He's the one you were warning me to be careful of."

Jane smiled at Will and shook his hand. "I'm very pleased to finally meet you, William. And if Charles thinks so highly of you, then I guess I don't have too much to worry about with you and Lizzy then, do I?"

"I guess not," he laughed.

As they chatted, Jane quietly observed Will's body language and the way that his arm stayed firmly around Lizzy, marking his territory plainly for anyone watching. It was definitely a 'hands off' warning to any male within a five metre radius. She would have been slightly concerned if not for the way that Lizzy leaned into him, a happy glow on her face. Jane and Charles wandered off, leaving Lizzy and Will alone once again.

"Do you fancy a walk along the beach?" he asked. "I've been trying all night to get you alone for a few minutes."

"I'd love to."

They kicked off their shoes when they reached the sand, anticipating the feel of the cool, fine grains between their toes.

Hands in pockets, Will stood quietly and looked out over the ocean sparkling in the moonlight - thousands of tiny diamonds cast out over the waters, twinkling and blinking in the gentle swell of the undercurrent. Breathing deeply he sighed, letting the calm wash over him as the small breakers pushed up, the incoming tide grabbing the shoreline.

He felt a small hand sneak into the crook of his elbow and he looked down to see Lizzy's face smiling brightly up at him. Smiling widely in return, he held her hand there and they walked. Silently, companionably, they strolled, each relishing the feeling of peace and ease between them.

"It's beautiful out here, isn't it William?" Lizzy sighed softly. "Hard to believe that behind us is a sprawling, huge city. I almost feel like I'm back on the island - with the tranquility and calm and no one about. I wish I could stay there all the time and never have to leave."

"But what about your career? I know how important that is to you."

"Since I have to support myself, and my job is a great part of me and who I am at the moment, it is important, and naturally I want to do it well. I like doing something I know I'm good at."

"I can understand that. I guess that's why I write."

"Yes, I've been wanting to ask you about that, William, but I didn't wish to intrude. Why romance novels, and under a female pseudonym? You have to admit, it's a little unusual."

Will laughed softly. "It actually started out as a joke between Charles and me a few years back. He was desperately looking to recruit some romance writers to build up that side of the company, and he held a competition to try and find some fresh talent. I, of course, in my great wisdom and arrogance, thought that anyone could write those sorts of books, and just to prove my point, entered the competition without Charles knowing, using a female pen-name. I don't know who was more surprised when Elizabeth Courtois won - Charles or me. I just did it as a lark; Charles had no idea that Ms Courtois was yours truly."

"So what happened then?"

"Funnily enough, I had decided by that time that I really enjoyed writing. I don't have the patience for epic novels, but I found that writing tapped into a creative side of me that wasn't being fulfilled. Eventually, as demand increased, I gave up my day job" he said smiling, "and switched to being a full-time writer. And the anonymity that goes along with my pseudonym appeals to my desire for privacy very nicely. Plus four holidays a year on Bedarra while I write are a nice little extra. Not to mention my new editor, of course," he winked. "That's been the icing on the cake."

Lizzy smiled and relaxed into him, enjoying the ease of their being together. Will was struck again at how beautiful she looked when she smiled, and he felt a smug warmth knowing that the smile this time was just for him. Putting his arm around her, he hugged her close, and she nestled into him, her arms linked around his waist. His fingertip moved to lift her chin, and searching her eyes, he found acceptance and want.

Lowering his mouth to hers, he closed his eyes, savoring the touch and taste of her lips under his. His lips tripping softly over hers, he moved to scatter kisses over her forehead and eyes, leaving a trail of coolness and lightness before reaching her mouth once again. With no concept of time or space, seemingly alone in the world with nothing else but the sand and the sea, they lost themselves to the sweetness of the kiss. As the cool waves gentled rippled around their feet, they came back to the present, still heady with the feeling of wholeness their kiss created.

Will felt a lightness of heart being with Lizzy. She took his breath away on so many levels - physically, emotionally Her wordless response had answered his unspoken question, and he leaned down to her, capturing a wayward curl and playing with it nervously.



"About us "

"Yes " Lizzy answered carefully.

"The book edit is nearly finished, and after the proofing it will be going to print."

"Yes "

"I've asked Charles to line me up with another editor for the next one."

"Really?" asked Lizzy, smiling to herself.

"I want to have a shot I mean, I would like to see how far this I want to see if the feelings we have "


"Yes, Lizzy?" Will asked anxiously.

"I really hope that finding words for your stories isn't this hard for you," she teased gently. "But I know what you're trying to say."

"Lizzy," he said softly, taking her hands, "something has happened between us. I feel a connection with you I've never felt before. It's as though I can look at love afresh through your eyes and with the feelings I have for you."

"Please William "

"No, please, let me say this. I have felt for a long time now as if I've been waiting for that special someone to come into my life, and since that first moment you ran into my arms on the island, I feel as though I've finally found her. I think I've been falling in love with you from that moment."

"No, William, you're wrong. People don't just fall in love in five minutes."

"Why not? Why does it have to take years?" God! He'd known the minute he set eyes on her that she was 'the one'.

"But you don't know me." This was all starting to move a little quickly for Lizzy and she tried to slow things down.

"I know as much as I need to know," he said running his hands down her arms. "I love the way you look, laugh, the way you make me feel when I'm with you. And I realize that you've been burned, Lizzy, but the way I feel, it's real. I want to take you away. When the book is done, come away with me. Let me show you how I feel. Be with me."

She knew she had feelings for William, but this was too much too soon. What about how her feelings? "This is all about you, William; your feelings and wants. You haven't asked me how I feel. I am not Eloise and I'm not some fantasy heroine in your book. I am a living, breathing woman."

"I know that, Lizzy. But you feel the same way; I know you do." Why couldn't she just admit to how she was feeling. This was not turning out how he had visualized at all. She was back to being stubborn again.

"No, you don't know that William, because you've never asked," she shot back in exasperation.

Misinterpreting her frustration for anger, his own ire rose in response. "So consider yourself asked. And while we're at it, give me an answer to this." He grabbed her shoulders, pulling her roughly to him, kissing her hard and deep.

Pulling free, gasping, she panted, "Let me go, you you Neanderthal! Is that how you treat women? Are you going to try and drag me off to your cave now? If so, forget it! I may not be as experienced as the rest "

"Well, you could've fooled me," Will spat back. "I seem to be surrounded by Elizabeth Bennet conquests tonight. Tell me, are any more going to jump out of the woodwork?"

"William Darcy! You have a hide. I've had to watch you cosying up to half the women in Whale Beach tonight. And besides, I wasn't a bloody nun before I met Anthony - just a virgin. There's a difference you know."

Things had taken a downward spiral and he desperately tried to salvage something from the disaster. Attempting to be conciliatory, he tried once more. "Look - I just want to be with you. I want us to be together."

"I. I. I. Is there any other word in your vocabulary? Right now, I wouldn't go to the damn milkbar on the corner with you." Now he was making her angry. Why wouldn't he listen?

He, on the other hand, couldn't believe she was knocking him back. "There are plenty of women who would jump at the chance to take what I'm offering."

"Well fine - why don't you go find one of them, because the carrot you're dangling just isn't tempting enough for me."

Lizzy stormed off back up the beach, leaving William fuming. He stomped off after her, fists clenched, and a face like fury. Shit! Why can't I just learn to keep my big mouth shut! he thought.

When he arrived back inside, it was to find Lizzy dancing with that 'Lewis' fellow. Fine, he thought. If that's the way she wants it, then fine. Two can play that game. He sighted Anne on the other side of the room, standing alone. Catching her eye, he crooked his finger and motioned her over. Anne's face lit up with pleasure.

"You called?" she asked as she sidled up to Will.

"You and I haven't danced yet this evening. Feel like tripping the light fantastic with your old childhood sweetheart?" he asked as he took Anne into his arms. Her laughter floated out over the dance floor. One dance became two, then three, and couples started to drift off the dance floor. Anne and Will danced on. Lizzy, standing aside waiting for Lewis to return with a drink, turned as the music changed.

"And especially for that couple who just can't seem to let each other go - a little Van the Man to set the mood for love," crooned the DJ.

Lizzy looked on in surprise as the opening bars to Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" started to waft out through the sound system. She turned quickly to see if Will was still there, and was dismayed to find that he and Anne were the only two left. She watched, spellbound, as Anne's arms snaked up around William's neck, and he held her close in response. Through all the bars of the song, she tried to look away from them, but some strange fascination kept her glued. She looked on horrified, as Anne took William's face in her hands and she kissed him passionately, while he returned the kiss with what could best be described as apparent enthusiasm. A few cheers and claps went up around the room before finally, smiling, she released him again.

Lizzy was furious. She couldn't believe that William was throwing himself at that that blonde bimbo! Trying not to show her anger, she plastered a smile on her face and quickly left the room. Not sure where she was going, she soon found herself at the sliding doors leading out to the side garden. Thoughts and images of William flicked through her head as she walked quickly - his tender kisses and words - the memory of him with the Tigger mask trying to make her laugh and what did it all mean? Nothing. Absolutely nothing! Not again, she thought. I am not going to be the one left standing on my own. She heard a noise behind her, a slight crunch on the dead leaves lying all around her. Turning quickly with a sharply indrawn breath, she peered into the darkness, straining to see who had followed her.

"Relax, Lizzy. It's only me," said Lewis softly coming towards her in the darkness. "I saw you leave and you looked upset. I just came to see if you're all right."

Lizzy looked at Lewis standing there, the concern and love written all over his face. Her anger of moments ago started to dissipate leaving nothing but a hollow emptiness.

"Are you okay? You look like you could do with a hug."

Lizzy could feel the tears welling up, the hurt burrowing through her carefully maintained defenses. Nodding silently in response, she moved into the comfort of his arms. Nestling her head into his shoulder, she sighed deeply as she felt the warm wash of tears trickle down her cheeks. Her hands locked behind his back, she held tight, drawing in the security and warmth he offered. It felt so wonderful to be held.

Lewis had noticed the other man. Without realizing it, Lizzy's eyes had seemed to follow him everywhere and that final dance had been hard to miss. Feeling the shudder of her breathing, Lewis stroked and kissed her hair, content and grateful for now just to be there when she needed him. His heart tightened as he felt the tenseness of her hold on him.

"Lizzy," he whispered in her ear, "I am so sorry you're hurting. You are such a beautiful person, and you don't deserve to be feeling this. If I could take away this pain, I would. You know that, don't you."

She lifted her head slightly and looked up into his eyes - searching eyes, eyes full of love. She nodded. Moving closer, she gently brushed his lips with hers. Feeling him stiffen slightly, she pulled back, finding uncertainty in his eyes.

"Please, let me kiss you, Lewis. I need to kiss you."

Unable, incapable of pulling away, he delicately traced his fingers over her cheek before lowering his lips to hers, reveling in the softness he found there. The sweetness of her breath filled him, the ache he had felt from wanting her assuaged with the tenderness of her touch.

Arms moving up to his neck, Lizzy moved deeper into the kiss, her tongue tracing over his lips, eliciting a deep moan from Lewis. Pulling her closer, he held her firmly to him, hands trailing over her hips, drawing her against him, his hardness nudging her. He gasped at the heat he felt between them.

Lizzy felt it too, a heated jolt surging down her body and settling deep below her navel. Their kisses became faster, deeper, stronger; tongues tasting, as the need that each felt strained for satisfaction.

Finally breathless, they pulled apart, each shaken by what had happened.

"Lizzy, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to " Still breathing hard, he looked at her in mortification.

"I did, Lewis. I wanted you to kiss me. And now I want you to take me home," she said kissing him softly. Her eyes drew him in, leaving him unable to do anything but nod in return. Taking his hand, she led him around the front. "Got your keys?"

"Yes, I do."

"Good, let's go."

Seeing Lizzy rush off, obviously distressed, Will eventually managed to extricate himself from Anne's grip. Walking quickly in the direction he had seen Lizzy go, cutting through the groups of people clustered around the dance floor, he rushed out through the doors leading to the garden, casting his glance around frantically, looking for a wisp of lilac in the shadowy moonlight. Catching a glimpse of her, he slowed his pace, trying to settle his thudding heart as her neared her.

He stopped dead in his tracks as he saw another obscure figure reach out to her. Frozen, unable to move, he watched transfixed as Lizzy moved into the circle of his arms and the moving tableau morphed into a horrid dream. His Lizzy with another man! His breathing quickened and his feet, unwilling conspirators in this nightmare, carried him forward a few paces until he saw all he needed to see.

Fighting the lump in his throat, shoulders slumped, he strode back to the house. Wanting to be alone, he wandered through the house, until he rammed blindly into someone coming out of the kitchen.


He looked up at the familiar voice. "Hi, Charlotte. Sorry"

"You look like you just lost your best friend, mate. What's happened?" she asked, grabbing his arm.

Heavy hearted he told her an expurgated version of the story. "What am I going to do, Charlotte? I've pushed her away - for good this time."

"Will Darcy! I don't believe what I'm hearing. Does Lizzy mean so little to you that you would give up on her that easily? Do you love her?" One look at his face told her all she needed to know. He looked distraught. "Go after her then, and don't stop until she listens to you. Isn't she worth fighting for?"

Kissing Charlotte on the cheek, he rushed out to try and find Lizzy. Not finding her out back, he rushed around to the front of the house, in time to see Lizzy being handed into a little car by Lewis.

Furious, Will returned inside. A raging vortex of feelings rushed through him, unfamiliar feelings he had never experienced until that fateful meeting with Lizzy. Finding Georgie and saying a quick goodbye, he asked her to say 'bye' to Charles and Rich for him. He just couldn't stay there. If he couldn't find Lizzy and talk to her Well he would just have to try.

The drive back to the flat was quiet, the electricity between them palpable, both reluctant to speak as if words would somehow break the spell binding them. Taking his hand, she wordlessly led him up the darkened stairs to the doorway. As she put her key in the lock, the click sounding like a crack of lightning in the silence, Lewis took her shoulders, gently turning her to face him.

"Are you sure you want me to come in, Lizzy?"

"I'm sure. Tonight I need to be held and I need to feel loved. Is that enough for you?"

"That should do for starters," he said smiling, as he dipped his mouth to hers. "But if you change your mind, tell me - I don't want you to regret this or me."

Leading him into the bedroom, Lizzy flicked on the small bedside lamp, the diffused light casting a soft, shadowy glow over the room. Reaching for Lewis, she smiled up at him, kissing him softly as she started to slowly undo the buttons on his shirt. Dropping it onto the floor, she ran her fingers over his chest and the light, velvety covering of hair.

Lizzy shivered as she felt his hand brush lightly over her nipples, already hard in anticipation. Moaning against his mouth, she grabbed his hand, bringing it back to her breast and cupping it there. Gently fondling her nipple through the silky fabric of her dress, he trailed his lips down to her neck, lightly sucking and nibbling the soft, smooth skin. His hands found the zipper on her dress and slowly pulled it down, taking an eternity to reach the bottom. Slipping his fingers under the straps, the dress slithered down over her curves, settling with a whoosh in a puddle at her feet.

He released her mouth and stood back, his eyes, now heavy with desire, raking her body. The white lace bra, almost transparent in its fineness, highlighted the darkness of her nipples. Needing to taste her again, his lips found hers as his hands moved over her hips to her buttocks, the shock of her skin, left bare by the white lace g-string teasing him with its smoothness.

"Oh my god," he said weakly. "You are more beautiful than I ever imagined."

Smiling up at him, she held his gaze as she ran her fingers down over his abs, following his happy trail until she felt the top of his trousers, slowly moving the fly down over the tightness caused by his straining erection. A low growl escaped his throat and he held her face as he kissed her deeply, her tongue meeting his as she answered his need with her own. She sighed as he reached for her soft, full breasts with trembling hands.

The phone ringing broke into their single-minded thoughts.

"Leave a message. I'm busy," said Lizzy distractedly to the phone while still holding Lewis' gaze with her own.

"Lizzy? Are you there? Pick up, dammit!" The sound of William's frantic voice on the answering machine shot through Lizzy. "It's not what you think. God, woman! Don't you know I love you! Call me please. We've got to talk." The message rang off, leaving an eerie silence in the confines of the flat.

Lewis looked down at Lizzy. Her eyes were closed tightly, her body now tense. Reaching down to touch her face, he wiped a tear away that snuck under her fringe of eyelashes.

"You love him too, don't you?" he asked gently.

"No, I don't. I hate him," she said weakly.

He merely lifted her chin as he looked into her eyes, repeating the question soundlessly.

Dumbly she nodded, realizing finally what she had been unwilling to admit, unable to speak for fear she would start crying, the sobs creeping up and lodging in her throat, threatening to break free.

With great tenderness, he pulled her to him, resting her on his chest and wrapping his arms around her. He felt the wetness of her tears dampening his chest. Cuddling her into his embrace, he spoke softly to her, soothing her with the soft timbre of his voice.

"As much as I would love to be with you tonight, Lizzy, it wouldn't be fair to you or to me." He lifted her chin until she was looking into his eyes. "If he really loves you, he deserves a chance to prove it to you, and you need to give him that chance."

"But he thinks I'm just some fantasy in a book he can write and make love to," she cried.

"Lizzy," said Lewis softly, "you're every man's fantasy, written or real. And I suspect he knows the difference. Any man who has held you knows the difference, believe me."

He cuddled her again until he could feel some of the tension leave her body. Then moving away, he stooped down to gather his shirt, dressing quietly and quickly.

Looking at the hurt on Lewis' face, Lizzy felt incredibly sad. "I'm so sorry, Lewis."

"I'm sorry too, Lizzy. I want more than anything to make love to you, but I don't think I could ever give you up if we went that far, and I don't think I'm what you really want or need. But most importantly, I want you to be happy. And if he can love you and make you happy, you grab him, okay? You deserve to be happy. But if you ever need someone to talk to " He left the rest of the sentence unspoken. Lizzy knew.

He leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the lips. Then he turned and was gone. After he left, she stood there for some time thinking about Will and her feelings for him, trying desperately to make sense of her emotions.

Finally, she padded down the hall to the phone. She noticed three other messages flashing on the answering machine. She didn't have to play them to know whom they were from.

In the quiet of the house, she sat, alone, her eyes mesmerized by the flashing red number on the answering machine, her mind adrift.

Chapter Six