Jane stretched and yawned, looking around in confusion as she tried to make sense of her surroundings in the pre-dawn light. The moment of disorientation passed quickly, and she felt an arm tighten around her as Charles pulled her closer into him. She looked over her shoulder at his sleeping face and smiled. She snuggled in and sighed, a deep, contented sigh that came from feeling emotionally and physically replete.

Recalling the somewhat blurry events of last night, she remembered finding out that Lizzy and Lewis had gone, although why they had gone without telling her was something she would be taking up with Lizzy first chance she had. She wondered for a moment what had happened - Lizzy had looked pretty cosy with Will last she had seen her.

She remembered Charles taking her hand, bringing her downstairs, and what followed made her blush even now. Never in her life had she been made love to so utterly and completely. Even now, she wondered if it had been some wonderful dream. But she knew better when her nipples hardened as she felt his fingers run over them, and she nestled back into the thrusting hardness of his morning erection.

"Morning, beautiful," he said huskily. "Please tell me I'm not dreaming, and when I open my eyes you really will be here."

"I'm real, Charles. And neither of us is dreaming," she whispered back at him.

"Good. I would hate the next half hour or so to be wasted on something that wasn't real."

She could feel his lips scattering kisses over her back and shoulders and she moaned softly as she felt his fingers run softly over the fullness of her breasts, cupping and kneading them gently, teasing the nipples to an exquisite hardness.

The sun broke through the clouds scudding the horizon and sharply illuminated the gentle undulations of the couple on the bed. The dawn, silent, save for the soft moans and rustling of sheets, crested in a brilliant blaze of pinks and yellows, shadowing the room in a floral glow.

"Charles?" panted Jane breathlessly.

"Hmmm?" responded Charles, his tongue flicking the velvety skin of her earlobe as he slowly slid in and out of her warm, moist depths.

"I can't wait," she pleaded breathlessly.

"I'm with you, beautiful. Come with me."

Jane gasped as she felt the tremors of a gentle climax shudder through her body, Charles moaning her name in her ear as they peaked together.

Later, they lay still entwined, their dampness mingling as they watched the sun sparkling on the ocean.

"Nice view, Charles," said Jane cheekily.

"I told you it was better in the daytime," he chuckled into her hair.

Finally sitting up, she looked out the window, fully taking in the wondrous vista. "What a sight to wake up to every morning," she sighed.

"Why, thank you, ma'am," he said in mock humility.

Laughing, she turned and kissed him. "Can you get your thoughts up above your navel for five minutes?"

"Not when you're in bed with me. is the view I'd like to wake up to every morning," he said, that heavy look coming back into his eyes as he toyed with a full breast.

"Charles … what about Robbie? I don't want him to find us here like this. Shouldn't we get up before he does?"

"I guess you're right, but I did promise him I'd try and talk you into sleeping over."

"Not this kind of sleep over, love. Now come on, let me up so that I can shower and get dressed before Robbie gets up. Oh no ..." she stopped.


"I don't have any clothes. What am I going to put on?"

"How about a long t-shirt of mine. It will probably look like a dress on you anyway."

He rustled in a drawer until he found one long enough to cover her. Following her into the ensuite, he proceeded to demonstrate that his talents were not limited to his mouth and hands. Jane emerged some time later, flush-faced, very clean, and a little unsteady on her feet.

"Would you like a hand, beautiful," asked Charles in concern as Jane reached for the towel rail.

"Just you keep those hands to yourself, Charles Bingley. They should be registered as a health hazard," she smiled a little crookedly.

Some time later, holding hands at the breakfast table, they sipped coffee as they stared dreamily into each other's eyes. The sound of a sleepy yawn alerted them to the shuffling arrival of the third member of their little group. The sight of little Robbie, rumpled pyjamas, dragging Teddy and rubbing his eyes filled Jane with a warm flush.

"Morning, Robbie," said Jane, reaching for the little mite and enfolding him in a warm cuddle.

"Did you sleep over, Jane? Did I miss something?"

"You didn't miss anything, sweetie. And yes, I slept over. Come up here," she said, lifting him onto her lap. He cuddled into her, still half asleep. She inhaled his kiddie smell, feeling her chest tighten with motherly feelings.

Charles looked on, unable to speak for the emotions running through him. The sight of Jane and his little squirt together like this … well, it was something he wanted in his life. He watched Jane as she kissed the top of Robbie's head, and rested her cheek there, murmuring to him softly as she rocked him and he gently slipped back into a light sleep.

All of Charles emotions were caught up in the sight of this beautiful woman he felt so much for, cradling his son with such love. He felt his eyes mist up and reached over to rub Jane's arm, just for the sake of touching her and to convince himself that this was all real.

Tilting her head, she looked at Charles, seeing the expression on his face that said so much. Smiling, she nodded gently. Love and understanding passed between them. Like a sweet homecoming, the morning passed in trivial family closeness, the kind of which is so often taken for granted.

Fresh from her shower, Lizzy felt a little more awake. She had spent most of the night curled up on the lounge, thinking, dozing but never really sleeping. She knew she should call William, but she just couldn't. She felt too raw, too emotional and altogether too unsure of what she would say. Replaying the messages again, there was no mistaking the worry and fear in William's voice. Random images of the night flashed through her mind. She resolutely pushed them away - unable to cope with the emotional roller coaster they sent her on. But her decision had been made and with shaking hands she picked up the handset, punching in William's phone number. The phone rang … and rang. Heavy hearted, Lizzy heard the answering machine pick up and heard the familiar sound of his deep voice on the recorded message. With tears welling in her eyes, she waited for the beep, still not sure what to say.

"Um, William? This is Lizzy," she said thickly, struggling to contain the tears that rose at realising he wasn't home after all. Had she left it too late to call? She had delayed calling earlier - nervous, worried, unsure. "I'll be at h…"

"Lizzy! Lizzy, don't hang up. It's me," he said desperately, his breathing sounding like he had sprinted for the phone. "I just got out of the shower."

"Sorry, William. I thought you must have been out," she said, wiping away the tears.

"I went for a run. Lizzy," he started nervously, "can I see you? Just to talk. Please?"

"Yes, we need to talk, William. Do you want to meet somewhere?"

"No, I'll come and get you. Why don't we go for a drive up the coast and find somewhere quiet to park."

"That sounds fine."

"I'll be there in twenty minutes. Okay?"

"Sure. I'll wait for you out front. Bye."

"Bye," said Will.

After an endless night of waiting, now spurred into action, Will finished getting dressed, anxious for the time to pass till he could leave. He had spent many of the long hours during the night thinking about what he wanted to say, and what he actually would say. This time he would not stuff it up. He was playing to win this time, and he was prepared to do whatever it took. He just hoped it wasn't too late.

Lizzy grabbed her bag and sunglasses as she left the flat. Her attempt to hide the puffy, dark-circled eyes had proven a task too great for her make-up skills.

He pulled up outside and waited. Watching for her to come down the path, he sighted her and was struck once again at how young she looked. Hair pulled back from her face into a messy bun, she looked like the teenager he thought she was when he first glimpsed her on the island. A vice clamped around his heart as he watched her walk towards the car, regret for the hurt he had caused her becoming an almost physical pain. Jumping out, he rushed around to open the door for her. The touch of her hand sent a sharp jolt up his arm. Wordlessly, they looked at each other, the air between them heavy with too many thoughts yet to be said.

Not sure of what to say, he started the car and began to drive. From one end of the coast, up and back again, they drove without speaking, each lost in thought but still acutely aware of the presence of the other and drawing a strange sort of comfort from it. Arriving back at Dee Why, Will pulled off the road, parking under the shady bows of a Norfolk pine overlooking the beach. Switching off the engine just made the silence more intense.

Taking her hand in his, he raised it to his lips, kissing it softly, not releasing it and nervously playing with her fingers.

"Lizzy," he started, "can you ever forgive me? I've behaved like an absolute jerk. I just don't know what comes over me when I'm with you. I feel like a kid in high school again. Nervous, bumbling, jealous. I hope I haven't scared you off completely. I know that …"

"William, would you mind if I go first? There are a few things I want to say, while I still have the courage to say them." She sat and waited until he nodded his acceptance. A sense of foreboding filled him at her choice of words.

"When we met on Bedarra, I told you that I had been burned and that I wasn't even ready to start dating, and since you wrote that damn book with your version of me in it, you have pushed and pushed to try and make me into your 'heroine'. Well, I am not Eloise, William; I am Lizzy. Lizzy Bennet. If you can't accept that, then this conversation is over."

He nodded.

"You never ask me how I feel, do you realise that? It's always about you. I need time, William. I need to know that I can trust you, that you won't hurt me like Anthony did, or this is it - we might as well say goodbye now." A tear escaped and trickled slowly down her cheek. "I won't go through that again - not for you and not for anybody, even if it means I'm alone for the rest of my life."

He kissed her fingers again, unable to do any more, trying to reassure her that he understood. He reached over to tuck a stray curl behind her ear, noticing the wetness glistening on her cheek and smoothing the tear away with a fingertip. "Take off your sunglasses, please Lizzy. I want to see your eyes when I say what I have to say."

"You don't believe me, and you have every reason not to, but I love you, Lizzy. The real you - not the one you think I carry around in my head. I know you, and I know that what I'm feeling is real - I have never felt this way before, and I have never, ever told any other woman that I love her."

She started to interrupt, and he placed a finger on her lips to forestall the inevitable comment. "I know, I, I, I," he smiled awkwardly. "But I want to know how you feel, Lizzy. Do you think it's possible that you could feel something for me, someday?"

"That's what worries me, William - I already do. You make me feel things I've never felt before, and I don't know what to do. But I'm so scared, William … terrified that you'll hurt me, too …" She didn't have to say the rest; Will could read it in her eyes … like Anthony did. She stopped as tears ran freely down her cheeks, dripping off her chin.

"Lizzy," he said, his heart breaking. Pulling her toward him, he rested her head on his shoulder, cuddling her to him. "Sweetheart, I'm sorry I've hurt you. I just don't know what comes over me when you're near. I start to act like some overgrown adolescent."

"I want to give us a chance, but I think we both need to find out if it's me you love or some figment of your imagination. Can we try that, William, spend some time together and get to know each other? Lately, I feel like I've been run over by a Mack truck every time I'm with you."

Will smiled in embarrassment, recognising the truth of Lizzy's statement. His super-cool evaporated every time he saw her and he rushed around like a bull in a china shop.

"Come back to my place, Lizzy. Trust me. I won't try anything, I promise. Just talk, okay?"

Maybe it would be okay, she thought. The first step on the path to trusting someone was always the hardest. Prepared to take that giant leap of faith, she nodded nervously.

Will sat on the lounge, his long legs straight out in front of him, Lizzy cuddled up at his side. She tucked her legs up under her and nestled in closer, feeling his arm around her tighten as he pulled her to him.

"Would you tell me about you and Anthony, Lizzy? I need to know because I want to understand your pain."

She winced slightly. Each re-telling didn't make it any easier as people said, it just re-opened old wounds. But she could see why he needed to know. "I guess it's the same old story, William, but when it happens to you it feels like you're the only person that's gone through it."

She paused to gather and strengthen herself for the re-telling, knowing what a tenuous thread held her emotions together on this subject. With a deep breath, she started …

"I met Anthony when I was 21, not long after Richard and I stopped seeing each other. Richard had gone overseas on an assignment after our break-up, and along came Anthony. We met at a fundraising function I was attending on behalf of the magazine. He was the complete opposite of Richard, more serious, supposedly more stable, and we had a real whirlwind courtship; he completely swept me off my feet. But then he could afford to. His family is wealthy, so he didn't really work - mostly played in the family business, attended the odd meeting, represented the family at functions, you know. My experience with men up to that point had been fairly limited - Richard was probably the most significant relationship I'd been in, but neither of us was really serious about taking it further. He was an up-and-coming hotshot photographer, and I was just getting started in my editing career. So the timing was all wrong."

"Anthony blew into my life and wined and dined me - flowers, romantic dinners, you name it, and I guess I fell for the line he threw me - hook, line and sinker. It didn't help that my mother kept pushing me. Mum's sole goal in life is to see all her daughters married, the more money the better, so Anthony was right up her alley. Anyway, four months after we met, we married. It was a big society wedding - cost my father a fortune, but Anthony's family expected it, and I was so in love that I went along with everything."

"I suppose things were okay for the first six to twelve months. We were pretty much like any newlywed couple, still discovering each other, until the shine started to wear off. My career started to really take off, and I was putting more and more time into it. Anthony and I started to fight about it all the time. I tried to tell him that it wouldn't be for more than a few years while my reputation became established, but he wanted me at home - end of story."

Snippets of his conversation with Lizzy on Bedarra flashed through his mind and he was starting to understand why she had reacted the way that she had. But one point still had him curious. "Why did you feel the need for a career, Lizzy? Don't bite my head off," he said in response to her quick look, "it's just that a lot of women would have seen a marriage like that as a career in itself."

"Okay, fair point. I had worked ever since high school, William, and I really liked my financial independence. I hated being reliant on others for anything. That's just me, I guess."

"So, what happened then? Is that when Anthony started playing around?"

"Not straight away. His mother was really pushing for us to start a family - heir to the family fortune and all that rot." A frisson of alarm shot through Will. "So, Anthony and I came to an agreement. If I agreed to start a family, he would allow me to freelance from home when the baby came. What on earth made me believe that he would stick to that is beyond me. There was no way he would've let me keep working; I would have had 'responsibilities'. Deep down I really wanted kids though, and we tried and tried for about twelve months and nothing happened; he began to blame my 'obsession' with my job for me not falling pregnant, and then to top it all off, things really started picking up at work. I received a couple of promotions, and my hours got longer with the extra responsibility."

"I take it he didn't like that?" asked William gently.

"Anthony was one of those guys who needed someone around him all the time telling him how wonderful he was, and by the time I got home from work, I was way too tired to pander to his hungry male ego. So that was when he went looking for it elsewhere, I guess. Most nights by the time I came home, he would be gone - out boozing or dining or at some social event. I never knew which. I tried cutting back on the time I spent at work, bringing it home with me so that I could be there with him. But he just resented it even more. I had started working with Charles by this point, and he let me go part-time for a while to try and help me out. I guess it was pretty obvious to everyone that I wasn't in a happy marriage."

"How did they know? He didn't hit you, did he?" asked Darcy with concern.

"Anthony? The king of wimps?" she said derisively. "No, as it turned out he had a much more effective way of hurting me. I had my suspicions that he was having an affair, or affairs, but I could never quite catch him out. He always seemed to have a good excuse. I wonder how long it would have gone on if I hadn't had that phone call at work one day from his current 'lady'. They had been having a fling for six months, and apparently she was pregnant. She 'suggested', rather bluntly, that I let him go," she said shuddering, starting to cry.

"Shhh, it's okay. I remember you telling me of that. You don't have to tell me again," he soothed.

"It was so humiliating. You see, I was still trying to fall pregnant at the time; we had been trying to fall pregnant for about three years and I had had trouble conceiving and was contemplating IVF. He told me how useless I was, that I couldn't even do that right. So needless to say, at that point I was feeling pretty devastated."

"When I confronted him about it, he made no attempt to deny it, in fact he laughed in my face at how clever he'd been, fooling me all that time." Tears started to flow freely down her cheeks. "He told me how many women he'd been with, and told me how stupid I was that I didn't have a clue. And all that time, he'd still been sleeping with me, not very often I know, but it just made me feel dirty and used. I think I really hated him at that moment. That was the final nail in the coffin of our marriage for me."

"Anthony and I separated and that was that. The bastard had the nerve to send me a photo of his son when he was born - just to rub my nose in it." She sniffed as a fresh paroxysm of tears fell.

"So I took what little money I'd saved and moved away, bought my apartment and tried very hard to get on with my life."

"Didn't you get a settlement from the divorce?"

"I didn't want any of his stinking money," she said harshly. "Luckily for me, I had put my salary into my own account each week because we didn't need it to live on. I thought I would use it to open up my own little business one day, but as it turned out, it was all I had when the divorce was finalised. I think I got out of it pretty cheaply, really. Just think - I could still be married to the prick."

Will hugged her tightly. The emotions he was feeling ranged from pain for Lizzy, to anger, to wanting to rush out and crush Anthony like the vermin he was. He waited for her tears to ease, holding her close, knowing there was nothing else he could do or say at this time.

As her sobs subsided to an occasional shudder, he smoothed the hair from her face, wiping her tears with a tissue.

He lifted her onto his lap and she nestled into his safe warmth, his arms cuddling her tightly. Lifting her chin, he looked deeply into her eyes.

"Thank you for sharing that with me, Lizzy. I know how hard that must have been for you. But at least now, I understand. I would never hurt you like that. Please believe me."

She looked back at him intently, seeing the honesty and the sensitivity in his dark eyes and innately recognising that she could trust him. Reaching up, she ran her fingers over the firmness of his jaw, following the cleft in his chin, and lightly touching his soft lips. With great deliberation, she lifted her face, touching her lips to his, gently exploring, tremulously tasting and feeling. Kissing him now with more pressure, his lips slowly parted underneath hers.

Will felt a sensation of vertigo. His promise just to talk was steadily being eroded by the heady taste of her mouth on his. With great resolve, he pulled his face away, panting softly.

"Sweetheart," he smiled to soften his words and actions, "if you keep doing that to me, I won't be able to keep my promise to you that we would do nothing but talk."

"Sorry, William, but I can't seem to get enough of the taste of you. It's addictive."

He squeezed her to him. "Believe me, I know exactly what you mean," he sighed into her hair.

The gentle exploration continued, sweet in its innocence, wrapping them in a warm, fuzzy cocoon. Lizzy found that William loved to play with her hair, twisting the curls around his finger, and she happily obliged him by releasing her hair from the loose bun, allowing his hand free access to roam through it.

Comfortable in the embrace, Lizzy sighed contentedly as she nestled her head under his chin. He continued to softly stroke her hair and face, and as she relaxed further, he soon became aware of a change in her breathing. Lizzy had fallen asleep.

The effects of the long sleepless night soon became telling on Will also, and holding Lizzy firmly, he too nodded off.

It was sometime later that Lizzy slowly awoke, conscious initially of the feeling of warmth and the snugness of her position. She smiled to herself at the picture they must present, but relished the sense of closeness with William. She slowly raised her head to look at him and was surprised to find a crinkly pair of deep brown eyes watching her closely.

"I thought you were asleep," said Lizzy softly.

"I was, but your movement woke me. And I must say, it is the most pleasant awakening I've had for a very long time, waking to the feel of you in my arms. Thank you, Lizzy," he said, softly kissing her cheek, "for trusting me enough to share that with me."

She smiled shyly at him. "We can't stay here like this all day, though."

"Why not?" he asked cheekily. "I have you exactly where I want you … where I've been trying to get you for ages now. Do you honestly think I'm going to give you up that easily?" he laughed softly.

"No, I guess not," she smiled, wrapping her arms around him and snuggling in closer.

"William, may I ask you a question?" she asked nervously, playing with his shirt button.

"Sure, Lizzy. Anything. I have no secrets from you," he encouraged her.

"That beautiful woman you were kissing at the party … Georgie told me that you and she used to go out."

"Yes, we did, sweetheart. But," he put his finger on her lips to silence her, "the spark was never there. Not for me, at least."

"But you were kissing her…"

"I was angry after our fight and then seeing you with that other guy … I just saw red and was stupidly trying to make you jealous. I guess that one backfired on me," he said, embarrassed. "I saw you kissing him in the garden, and then you two left together … and when you didn't answer your phone, well, I just assumed … "

"Lewis? Oh William, I feel so bad about that. I'm so sorry."

"Why 'so bad' … and why 'sorry'?" asked Will. A nervous chill ran down his spine as he thought back to what he had seen in the garden.

"I was so upset at seeing you with Anne. When I saw you kissing her … she is so tall and gorgeous. I mean, let's face it, the woman could be a model for heaven's sake, and next to her, I'm short and fat …"

"Oh, Lizzy, you aren't," he said, his arms tightening around her. "I love every bit of you, just as you are."

"But when you kissed her like that, I thought you didn't really care about me like you said, and I really needed to feel that someone could want me like that. And, well, Lewis … He … we …." Lizzy struggled to bring her thoughts into focus.

"Did you sleep with him, Lizzy?" Will quietly asked, holding his breath as he waited for her answer.

"No, but I wanted to. I wanted to feel desirable and loved, and Lewis made me feel that way. I felt beautiful when he held me. He was very gentle and tender and loving. But now I just feel terrible. If you hadn't called when you did, I would have done something I shouldn't have and hurt someone else very deeply."

Will exhaled the breath he had been holding slowly, the impact of Lizzy's admission washing over him like a splash of cold water. How could he keep forgetting that in a lot of ways, Lizzy was just like an insecure teenager? She'd already given him an inkling of what Anthony had put her through back on Bedarra, so why did he play these stupid games with her? He felt the relief flood through his body knowing that she had stopped when she did. A prickle of jealousy tickled as he thought of another man holding his Lizzy like that, but he determinedly squelched it, relieved that he had called her just in time. "What stopped you from going further, Lizzy?" he asked quietly. He hated asking, but he had to know.

"I don't know … I think I wasn't ready to admit what I felt about you and I didn't want you to hurt me like Anthony did. I thought I could just sleep with someone, liking them but without really loving them; you know, like people seem to do all the time these days. But when I heard your voice, I couldn't go through with it," she sobbed.

"Why?" he asked softly.

"Because of you. Because of how I feel about you, dammit! Oh, I don't know. I guess I'm a failure as a modern woman, huh?"

"No, you're not a failure, sweetheart," he said gently, kissing her hair. "You just haven't had a lot of experience with men, and I went and acted like a bloody idiot and nearly pushed you away for good." Will was stunned at realising how close he had come to blowing it completely. "I'm sorry, Lizzy. I won't ever do that to you again," he said, hugging her.

"I'm sorry too, William. I shouldn't have reacted like I did. I just don't understand why on earth a gorgeous guy like you would want to be with me when he could have someone like Anne."

"Oh, baby!" "Then I guess I'll just have to show you then, won't I?" he said, tenderly lifting her face to his.

The storm over, the air cleared, the remainder of the afternoon passed in a light-hearted tκte-ΰ-tκte with shy touches of hands and lips. A new understanding had been reached and the tentative but solid foundations of a trusting relationship were laid down. This was a new experience for Lizzy and even though she was still a little scared, she embraced it, albeit tentatively.

It was only later, after an impromptu dinner comprised of a raid on the refrigerator for left-overs, that any mention of what to do next was discussed. Back in their favourite position on the lounge, cup of tea in hand, Will cautiously broached the subject of their immediate future.

"I'm going to be totally selfish again, Lizzy, but I want you all to myself next weekend. Would you mind? We can do whatever you like … go away somewhere, stay here, go for a long drive into the country. Whatever you want. But I think we need this time alone together, don't you?"

Lizzy smiled at the change in William's usual take charge attitude. The steamroller had mysteriously disappeared. "What? I'm not going to see you until next weekend?"

"Sweetheart, wild horses couldn't keep me away. You'll be sick and tired of the sight and the sound of me come Friday."

Her laughter tinkled up at him. "I don't mind what we do, William. How about you pick me up from work on Friday afternoon, and surprise me? Does that sound okay to you?"

"It sounds wonderful," he said, his mind ticking over with possibilities as he cuddled her close. "It's a date."

Chapter Seven