SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME Chapter 11 Fanfiction by Suz Home Page CHAPTER ELEVEN


Paralytic: Colloq. Completely intoxicated with alcoholic drink; very drunk

Pittwater Road: the main road in Sydney that runs from Mona Vale at one end of the Northern Beaches down to Manly.

The pool filter kicked in, the steady hum penetrating the heavy silence that hung like a shroud over the group on the deck. The seconds ticked by - silent, heavy - the clamoring din of unspoken thoughts blocking out all else save the sight of a shy little boy nervously grasping his mother's hand. Like the strings on a tightly strung violin, those thoughts started to snap and unwind as the import of Caroline's words finally landed with a thump in their collective consciousness.

As no one had asked her to sit, Caroline stood, looking as cool as a cucumber as she surveyed the group. Taking in the expressions of shock and surprise, she speculated on the thoughts that were going through their heads as they tried to fathom what had just happened. A chill smile settled over her face as she glanced around at the faces of those in front of her.

"Sarah," called Caroline, and a young girl, no more than 17 or 18 came out from the kitchen onto the deck, "take James for a walk, would you, dear? The beach is just down through that pathway."

Sarah reached down to pick up the boy, looking to see where Caroline had indicated, and nodded without saying a word.

Everyone waited until the two of them were out of earshot.

Charles looked at his sister, his face a study in bewilderment. To an outsider, there were no physical signs of their shared parentage, but the dissimilarities went much deeper. A harsh look, one that could only be described as revulsion, flashed in his eyes, and the unexpected news that he was an uncle jockeyed to register in competition with the realisation that his sister had sunk to a new low - even for her. That she would use a child in this fashion to achieve her ends sent an unpleasant shiver right down his spine. His glance flicked over Will, who was staring at Caroline in disbelief, and to Lizzy, who looked as though she had just been punched in the gut. He had to say something … but what? Charlotte caught his eye - she was the only one who didn't look like she'd had the air knocked out of her. He caught a small acknowledging nod from her. This must have been the news she was going to deliver … that Caroline had a child … but even Charlotte couldn't have known whose child his sister would claim it to be …

The silence stretched. Tension built each interminable second.

Anger and disgust roiled through Richard like a maelstrom. His intense dislike and distrust of Caroline stretched back to their childhood. She had been a pretty child as he recalled, seemingly sweet-natured, who had grown into a stunning teenager - tanned skin, dark eyes, with a Lolita-like innocence. That image was shattered for Richard the summer of her fifteenth birthday. He recalled having gone for a walk on the beach one night at dusk and literally almost stumbled on Caroline having her brains fucked out behind the dunes by one of Charles' so-called friends. The sounds of her moans and pleading for more, and the slap of flesh on flesh had made him want to puke. There had been other occasions, too, that he had heard about. Charles' little sister. Huh. He hadn't told Charles. How the hell do you tell a mate that his sister is a slut? Her reputation as the town bike was well known by a lot of the blokes around the northern beaches. How on earth Charles hadn't heard about it was beyond him, and it wasn't Richard's place to impart that information. But his suspicions about the truth of her accusations were in full force. Leopards don't change their spots.

He looked at Will and Lizzy, the two people he loved most in the world. Will was closer than a friend, closer than a cousin - he was like a younger brother. Certainly he loved him like one. And Lizzy-she was his first serious love. His heart ripped as he looked at her, knowing what must be running through her mind and the pain it would be causing her. He would move heaven and earth to prevent her going through that again. This could tear them apart unless something was done to prevent it. He was one of the few people who knew what had happened between Will and Caroline. It still didn't make sense though, and knowing her as he did, he wondered how on earth she could have the gall to pin the paternity for her son on any one man.

"How old is James, Caroline?" asked Richard.

"Nearly two. Why?"

Richard mentally backtracked, but his mind baulked as it did the calculation. He looked over at his cousin's haggard face and saw the confirmation of his own thoughts.

"How can you be so sure the boy is Will's?" His voice as it cut through the silence, the tone low and controlled, completely belied the anger that raged through him. His voice though, steady and even, served to pull each person out of the individual cocoon of shock they were in, and they looked at him, his words preferable to the thoughts that were spinning like a broken record through their minds.

"What do you mean, Richard?" Caroline's eyes narrowed into slits.

"Do you really want me to say, Caroline." His implication was quite clear.

"I have no idea what you mean."

Richard sighed. It looked like Caroline had every intention of trying to bluff it out. He was fine with that. She had no way of knowing what he knew about her. That was one advantage he, or rather, they, had and he didn't mind one little bit if he had to use it. Time to rattle the cage.

"Oh, I think you know exactly what I mean. For starters, does the name, 'Toby Miller' mean anything to you?"

He watched closely and noticed Caroline's eye's widen slightly - the only sign that he had hit a mark. Then he watched the calculated look come back into her eyes. This wasn't going to be easy.

"What about Toby, Rich? I haven't seen him in years," said Charles, looking from one to the other in confusion. "What happened?"

Caroline's eyes flinted at Richard, a veiled threat in them, taunting, daring him to reveal what he knew. "That has nothing to do with now, Richard. That was a long time ago … years. Is that the best you can do?"

"I have more, Caroline - much more. Do you really want to go there?" For just a second the fury he held in check flared in his eyes, just a flicker, then it was quickly doused as he replaced it with a knowing grin, meant to unnerve, successfully unsettling the cold bitch that stood in front of them.

"What are you - a frickin' spy, or something?" For just a moment, Caroline's icy calm appeared to slip before she rallied back. "I would have expected nothing else from you, Richard. What happened in my past has no relevance to this. This is now."

Her glance settled on Will. "A woman knows. Will knows, too, don't you Will, darling?"

Considering what he knew of her past, Richard had every reason to doubt the veracity of her statement, but there was little he could say at that. All heads turned to the man in question, who until this point had been staring at Caroline, but whose head now drooped as he retreated further into his own personal nightmare.

Will couldn't believe it. Hell, it couldn't be true! It couldn't be! But the same doubts about that night that had plagued him for two and a half years, came back to him now in full force. He felt Lizzy's hand on his leg and raised anxious eyes to look at her. She was looking at him, the disbelief and hurt in her eyes cutting him in two. Behind it all there was a hopeful plea. He could read it as well as he could read a book. She was begging him to tell her it wasn't true. Oh, god! He wanted to tell her that so much that he could feel the words of rebuttal form in his mouth, but he couldn't lie - he abhorred lies and he wasn't about to start telling them now with Lizzy, especially not with Lizzy. He knew that if he wanted to have any chance with her when all this was cleared up, he had to be honest with her now, even if it meant she walked away from him.

Damn Caroline! Damn her to hell!

Did he know? "I'm not sure." It was all he could say and it sounded weak and pathetic even to his own ears.

Lizzy flinched beside him as if someone had slapped her. He felt her hand move off his leg, leaving the bare skin cold after the warmth of her touch. He waited for the question, knowing it would come, not knowing how he would answer it when it did.

"What do you mean, you're not sure?"

There it was. Lizzy had spoken so quietly, he wasn't sure he would have heard it if he hadn't been sitting right next to her. He looked at her, afraid of what he would see. Her eyes were bright and full of pain - pain that he had hoped never to put there. Pain like she had felt when she had told him about Anthony. Oh God! Anthony! Shit, no! She couldn't be thinking that he … no, not like Anthony. He felt the first tremors of panic rise up in his chest.

"It's a long story, Lizzy." And one that he needed time to tell her … in private.

"The last thing I need is clichιs. Why didn't you tell me about her, Will?"

"It wasn't important - not to me at least."

"You don't consider having a relationship with Caroline worth telling me about? I asked you about your former girlfriends. Why didn't you mention her?"

There was a brittle edge to Lizzy's voice that sent a shiver through him. "We never had a relationship, Lizzy. It wasn't like that. It's a long story."

"Yeah, I imagine it is."

He raked his fingers through his hair. He wanted to explain to Lizzy, but this was not the place - not with Charles sitting across from him. It had to be told in private - without Caroline leering over his shoulder in silent triumph.

"Let me take you home, sweetheart. I'll tell you about it there. I can explain, truly."

"You can explain? I don't think so, Will. I've been down this road before, don't forget. I know where babies come from. I just never expected to come face to face with one of yours."

"It's not what you're thinking." He could feel the thread of the bond he had always felt with Lizzy start to unravel, the cords spinning quickly as they frayed. "Please believe me, sweetheart."

"Let's see … you and Caroline slept together, she had a baby. That pretty well says it, don't you think?"

He reached for her arm, needing to touch her. She flinched and moved away, the hurt barely masked. He looked at her, the eyes glassy with unshed tears, and felt his heart break. This shouldn't be happening. He looked at her beseechingly and shook his head slightly as if to make it all go away.

She stared at him as she stood. To the rest of them she appeared composed, but it was all an act. He knew it. He could feel her confusion and hurt, swirling around him like a fog, almost choking him. His hand reached for her again, but she looked down at him, her expression cold, shutting him out.


His hand dropped and landed on the table with a thud, a look of utter defeat on his face.

"Jane," croaked Lizzy, "would you mind driving me home, please?"

Will's head snapped up. "Please, Lizzy, I'll drive you." The pain clouding his eyes, hidden to everyone but Lizzy, begged for her understanding. He hoped the message was succinct enough for her to read. She had to give him a chance.

"I don't think so, Will. Not now. Not this time."

Her words, soft and quiet, stung like a slap in the face. He stood, determined to stop her … go with her … he didn't know what … and grabbed her arm as she moved to turn away and pulled her around, searching her face for any small sign of her love for him. All that met him was a blank stare. He felt devastated.

"Will … Will …"

Jane's voice reached him and he heard it but couldn't stop looking at Lizzy, hoping against hope for some sign from her.

"I'll take Lizzy home, Will. You need to stay here for now." Jane's voice, calm and reasonable, finally registered through the thick fog and he let Lizzy's limp hand go, feeling it slip through his fingers as she walked away from him without a backwards glance.

A sense of unreality settled over Lizzy. There was a tightness in her chest that was making it difficult for her to breathe and she had to resist the urge to gulp in huge lungfuls of air to try and alleviate the feeling.

She had to get away. She couldn't look at Will without wanting to cry, and there was no way she was going to lose it … not yet and not here. Bracing herself as she felt his hand on her arm, that familiar touch, she stiffened, as if her nerves had suddenly come back to life and screamed at his touch.

No! She didn't want to feel. She just wanted to be numb. Numb was good. Numb didn't hurt so much. She steeled herself, knowing that if he touched her she was a goner. The hurt in his eyes when she told him not to touch her was almost more than she could bear - certainly more than she could cope with. No, she had to go - now! Jane would understand. Right now, she just wanted to be home, in her own place, away from this … this … pain.

She glanced at Caroline. The bitch was smirking. What a cow! What sort of woman drops a bombshell like that, and smirks?

No, it was time to go. Time for thinking later. She just had to get away from this nightmare. Home. She had to get home.

Jane felt something pressed into her hand, and closing her fingers around it, recognized the feel of keys. She looked down at Charles, saw the understanding there, and leant down to kiss him lightly before turning to follow her distraught sister.

She drove Lizzy the short distance to Richard's place to pick up her things, and followed Lizzy into the room she and Will had left just a short while ago.

Lizzy looked at their belongings, scattered and mixed, lying on the bed, on the floor. It was obvious they had been too tired and upset to do more than just fall into bed last night and hold each other. Their things still lay where they had been dropped.

Jane watched from the doorway as Lizzy, unable to help herself, moved around the room, folding and tidying as she collected her clothes and toiletries. Lizzy picked up William's shirt, still redolent with the scent of his aftershave, and held it to her nose, and just for a moment, inhaled the smell, a sob lodging in her throat before she dropped it and moved on to the next item.

Lizzy looked reluctant to talk, as if the process of talking took more energy than she had. Jane knew she was just going through the motions, dealing with the shock by blocking it. The time to talk would come later, after Lizzy had had time to gather her thoughts. Jane waited patiently.

When Lizzy was all packed, they walked back out to the car without a single word spoken. The drive back to Dee Why was quiet. Lizzy stared, unseeing, out the window of the car as the beaches flashed by. They were back in the flat without a word being uttered. As Jane flicked the switch on the kettle, Lizzy dropped her bag and flopped on the lounge.

"You can go back if you want, Jane. You don't have to baby-sit me, you know. I'll be fine, and anyway, Charles may need you."

"Why would I want to be anywhere but here with you, Sis? You need me, and Charles will be fine. Coffee?" She paused and looked with concern at her sister and waited for the nod. "Do you want to talk about it, Liz? You must have a million thoughts running through your head."

Jane finished making the coffee, bringing it over to Lizzy and sitting beside her on the lounge. When Lizzy finally spoke, it was broken and full of tears.

"You ever get the feeling that your worst nightmare has come to life? That's just how I'm feeling at the moment. I can't believe that 24 hours ago I was on cloud nine. I was engaged to be married and … Oh, shit!" she blurted, as her eyes started to fill with tears. "Tell me this isn't happening, Jane!"

"Let it out, Sis. Come on," she said, and reached out for Lizzy, cuddling her close as a sob broke free, leading into a flood of tears. She smoothed her sister's hair as Lizzy cried into her shoulder. It was some moments before Lizzy lifted her head, took deep breaths and wiped her eyes on the tissues that Jane offered.

"I just don't get it, Jane. Why me? This is like bloody dιjΰ vu. I mean, I'm not a bad person, so why the hell does this crap always happen to me?"

Biting her lip, Jane hugged Lizzy as the words tumbled out of her, squeezing her sister in silent support.

"Did you know about this, Jane?"

"None of us knew, Liz. Charles told me about his sister the other day, but not this - this was news even to Charles."

"So, tell me … about Caroline. What did he say?"

"I can tell you this for certain - Charles is no fan of his sister. In fact, he can't stand her."

"And her and Will? Did he say anything about that? Please, Jane, tell me what you know. I feel like I'm stumbling around in the dark here."

Jane carefully considered her words. "Just that Caroline had always had what Charles referred to as 'an unhealthy interest' in Will. As for anything else, I think the only person who can tell you more is Will. You realize you will have to talk to him, don't you, at some point in time?"

"I know. I just don't understand why he never said something about her. If I had only known … about Will and … and her, I could have been more prepared."

"Nothing could have prepared you for that, Lizzy, so forget that idea. And while we're at it, Will looked just as shocked and surprised as the rest of us."

"Shocked. Yeah. I got that. Guys always are. Men are bloody idiots."

Jane was shocked at the venom in Lizzy's tone. "That's a little bit harsh, Sis, even for you. Look, I know this has been terrible and you're hurt …"

"Terrible? Hurt? That's an understatement, Jane. He slept with her! And who knows how many times … He's a man and he's just like all the rest. I don't know why I ever thought he could be different."

A small frisson of alarm ran through Jane. She could understand that her sister was upset, but perhaps Lizzy hadn't seen the look on Will's face or she wouldn't be making such scathing comments. It was time for a little reality check.

"Lizzy Bennet!" snapped Jane. "For heaven's sake! You're jumping to conclusions. And while we're at it, Will could have slept with many women, none of which he has to tell you about if he doesn't want to. He wasn't a bloody monk before he met you, and you know it. Neither of you were virgins."

"But he should have told me." Lizzy was getting angrier the longer she thought about it. "If he'd been honest with me when I asked him about his previous girlfriends, then this whole bloody mess wouldn't have been such a shock."

"And I think you're forgetting that Will was just as surprised as the rest of us," reasoned Jane. "He certainly didn't plan for this to happen."

"You're taking his side."

"No, I'm being reasonable."

"I don't need reasonable."

"No, you want to be judge, jury and executioner. Think about it, Lizzy. Will knows your background; he also knows how insecure you've been with men after Anthony. Will knows what you've been through, and he loves you so much that he wouldn't have wanted to rub your nose in any of it. Besides, there's nothing that says a man has to share information about all his sexual partners."

"Do you know about Charles' ex-lovers?"

Jane sighed in exasperation. "I'm not interested in who came before me, Lizzy. I know that he loves me now and that's enough. The rest is irrelevant."

"That's crap, Jane."

"No, Sis. What is 'crap' as you so nicely put it, is you getting angry with Will over this. Don't you think you're a little misdirected?"

"What do you mean? It's his fault. If he hadn't …"

"Hold it right there, missy. For a start, you didn't give him a chance to explain, so you don't know what really happened, and considering what little we know about Caroline and her obsession with Will, don't you get the vaguest impression that she orchestrated this little revelation for maximum damage? Open your eyes, Lizzy. If you have to be angry with anyone, Caroline is the one you should be angry with, not Will."

"You're taking his side again …"

Jane's voice softened as she looked at her sister. "No, little Sis. I'm taking both your sides. If you weren't so upset, you'd be able to see what I can see. Will loves you, more than I think you realize. He wouldn't hurt you in this way deliberately. Never. Stop thinking of yourself for five minutes and think about how he must be feeling at the moment."

"But he has a son, a son that I can't give him."

"And that's what this is all about, isn't it? Maybe he has a son. We only have Caroline's word for that so far, and you're taking it - hook, line and sinker. You are so quick to believe the worst of him, and from the way you rushed out of there, he must be feeling that he stands to lose you. How do you think that makes him feel? Irrespective of how many girlfriends he's had, how many of them has he proposed to? How many has he loved and told them so?" She paused a moment for her words to sink in. "You know Will better than I do, and even I know him well enough to know that he's just not the type of guy to do that unless it's for keeps. He's not Anthony, Lizzy, and you insult him by even thinking it."

Jane felt terrible for Lizzy, but she had to change the direction of Lizzy's thoughts or Will wouldn't get within five feet of her ever again. She sat quietly, waiting, while Lizzy stared off into space, her moods flickering across her face like shadows.

Caroline was grinning to herself. This was going much better than she had expected. So far she had managed to get rid of that little tart who was under the delusion that she was going to be marrying Will, and she had taken that Miss Pollyanna sister with her, too. But there were still a few tough nuts left to crack. Richard for one, and what was that stupid secretary doing here? She hadn't anticipated her involvement. That could be a problem. She was pulled from her musings by her brother's voice.

"What are you up to this time, Caro?"

Always one for the obvious question, aren't you Charlie. "I think that's between Will and me, don't you, Charles?"

"The boy isn't mine, Caroline," said Will. "He can't be. You've been in England for a couple of years. What is your sick little mind playing at?"

Okay, now we get down to it. "I didn't know it at the time, but I was pregnant when I left, Will darling. One night of passion is all it takes, you know."

Will reeled at that. "One night of passion? You've got to be joking! Is that how you remember it? You really are demented!"

<Ah, Will. Such strong emotion! God, but you are such a gorgeous man. If we could only channel all that heat into something a bit more pleasurable for both of us …"Now, Will, there's no need to be like that. We shared something beautiful, and James is the result. We can have that again, you know."

"Are you out of your fucking mind? We didn't share anything."

"But are you one hundred percent sure? Hmmm?"

"As far as I can recall, I was very drunk and went to bed. Annie came in the morning and found you in my bed - end of story. And as for us sleeping together, I'd sure as hell remember something like that," he said distastefully. "God, even being paralytic wouldn't be enough to scour that memory from my mind!"

My, my. Aren't we the testy one today? "Funny … my recollection of the event is entirely different. Would you like me to remind you?"

Charles shook with anger. He had never fully comprehended just how cruel his sister could be and it shook him to his core. But if he had to take sides now, he knew without a doubt that it wouldn't be his sister's. Right now he just wanted her out of his sight. "That's enough, Caroline! I want you to go. Get your son and leave my house. Now!"

"Gee, thanks for the support, brother dear. I always knew I could count on you. I'll be back, though." She turned to face Will. "There are things we need to discuss, lover. Like when are you going to face up to your responsibilities and be a father to your son. He looks a lot like you, don't you think?"

She started to walk away down the path, but turned back as something appeared to occur to her. "Oh, I hear your father is still in town, Will. Do you think he would mind if I popped in for a visit?"

Deliberately tamping down on the anger that threatened to rise up and choke him, Will breathed deeply, in the hope that a fresh supply of oxygen might help. "Sorry Charles, I know she's your sister, but I don't think I've ever met anyone quite so … so … objectionable as your sister."

"Nicely put, Cuz," said Richard. "Very gentlemanly. Completely unnecessary, of course, especially where the witch of the northern beaches is concerned."

"That title works for me, Fitzy," said Charlotte. "Couldn't have thought of a better one myself."

"You don't have to pussyfoot around me, Will," said Charles with a sigh. "As Charlotte well knows, none of you could possibly say or think anything that hasn't already gone through my mind. But can somebody tell me what the hell is going on this time?"

Will raked his hands through his hair slowly, glancing at Richard who nodded back at him.

"It's time, Will. Charles should know."

Will looked unsure, but at Charles' nod, he took a deep breath and began ...

"A couple of years ago on New Year's Eve, I was at a party at Richard's." A heavy sigh lifted then sagged his body at the recollections of that night. "I was on my own because Annie had another party to attend. Rich and I started drinking pretty early in the afternoon - on reflection it was not the smartest thing to do, but I wasn't to know that at the time. Caroline had been hanging around all night as usual, trying to touch me, always trying to touch me. God, I hate that! Anyway, by midnight I was pretty far gone, so I went upstairs to sleep it off. That's the last I recall until I woke up a few hours later. Annie was screaming at me, and I was naked … in bed, with … with Caroline wrapped around me. Nothing happened - it couldn't have - I don't think I was physically capable. Annie wouldn't believe me, though. We broke up after that night."

"Will, I'm sorry. If it's any consolation, I believe you."

"After that night, things with Caroline just got worse and worse."

"In what way?" asked Charlotte, curious.

"Caroline started pursuing Will relentlessly," answered Richard. "She'd always had a huge crush on him, but it seemed as though she thought that now that Annie was effectively off the scene, she could just swoop in and take her place. Wherever Will went, Caroline followed."

"Why didn't you tell me, Will?" asked Charles.

"You had your own problems to deal with after Cassie … Anyway, I didn't want to lumber you with this as well."

"Anyway," continued Richard, "lucky for Will, your dad, Charles, booked her on a flight to the UK to stay with friends. Maybe he was hoping that she would wake up to herself and return to some semblance of normalcy by the time she returned. Although for your sister, that's a pretty tall order."

"I recall Dad sending Caroline to England," said Charles, shaking his head, "I just didn't realize why. I thought it was for some other reason."

"Look, I need to go to Lizzy," said Will, bumping the table and rattling the plates and cups as he stood to leave. His thoughts may have appeared scattered to the others, but on that point he had perfect focus. He needed to talk to her-badly. As he turned to leave, a hand on his arm stopped him.

"No you don't, mate. You aren't going anywhere. Certainly not the way you're thinking at the moment."

Will looked down at his cousin's hand on his arm, and spoke, his voice gravelly with barely contained anger. "Rich, let go of me - now."

"You're not leaving."

"I bloody well am. Who's going to try and stop me? You?" He glared down at his cousin, who showed no sign of being the least affected by the glowering visage that was directed right at him.

"Wake up to yourself, mate. You honestly think you're in any fit state to go and see Lizzy? Look at yourself. You go blundering in there with all that anger you're bottling up, and you'll just make it worse. So plant it, boy-o. At least until you calm down a bit. Jane's with her. She's okay."

"But you don't understand, Rich. There's more …"

"What don't I understand? Tell me, because I'm all ears."

"Lizzy can't have kids."

As Will spoke the words, his face fell. This wasn't new information for Charlotte, and she squeezed his arm in support. She knew exactly what he meant. Richard sat looking dumbstruck. Charles dropped his head in his hands.

"I have to go."

"No, Will," said Charlotte. "You stay here - I'll go and see Lizzy and let you know how she is, okay? If … no, when she's ready to see you, I'll let you know. She might just need a bit of time." With a brief hug and a nod to Richard and Charles, she left.

Will slumped back in his seat. What a bloody mess!.

The three men sat at the table without speaking, each with his own thoughts.

Charlotte put the key in the ignition and started the car. She turned her head at the tapping she heard on the window and looked in surprise to see Charles' cousin, Annie, looking in at her. Hitting the control button on the armrest, the window slid down.

"Annie! Nice to see you again."

"You, too, Charlotte. I just popped in to see if everyone was still here. They mentioned that they'd be having a late breakfast." She looked around her in confusion. "There don't seem to be many cars here, though. Have they left already?"

Charlotte looked at Annie and a thought occurred to her. "Do you have any plans for today, Annie?" She paused as Annie shook her head but continued to look at her curiously. "I need your help. Hop in and I'll explain on the way."

"Sure," said Annie, as she walked around to the passenger door and slipped in.

Charlotte backed out of the driveway, and was almost on Pittwater Road before she broached the subject. "You see, Annie, it's like this …"

Jane was glad that she had managed to calm Lizzy down a bit after her initial angry outburst, but until Lizzy talked to Will, there wasn't much more she could do. She wondered how things were going at Charles' place. As much as she wanted to, a phone call was out of the question at the moment. She looked up when the doorbell chimed and walked down the hall to answer it.

"Whoever it is, get rid of them, Jane," called Lizzy. "And if it's Will, I'm not here. I'm not ready to face him yet."

In spite of their conversation, Jane could understand Lizzy wanting to hold off on talking to Will. She looked exhausted. Maybe after she'd had time to calm down, they could talk reasonably to each other without all that emotion getting in the way. She opened the door and was surprised to see Charlotte and Annie, each holding a bottle of wine.

"Ladies. What are you doing here?"

"Hi, Jane," said Charlotte. "The reinforcements have arrived." And then quietly, "Is she okay?"

"She's getting there. I think she's still in shock, and she's having trouble understanding what's going on, and I can't say I blame her, but I'm glad you're here. I don't know what more I can say to help. Come on in."

"We have guests, Lizzy."

"Charlotte! Annie! What are you doing here?" Lizzy curled on her side on the lounge hugging the cushion. She looked in confusion from one to the other. "What's going on, Char? Has something else happened?"

"You have lots of questions, Lizzy-girl, and we've come to answer a few of them. And along the way we're going to get nicely drunk. Sound like a plan?"

A small smile flickered over Lizzy's face - the first one Jane had seen that day.

"On two bottles? You should have bought the whole case."

"I know you have a stash here. Besides, this is just to get the party going. We can always phone and get more delivered."

Jane got out the glasses and opened the first bottle - a nice Cab Shiraz. Some food might not be a bad idea too, she decided, and took her time making some nibblies to eat while Charlotte started talking.

"If you're here to plead William's case too, I'm not sure I'm ready to hear it, Char," said Lizzy. "I'm having a bit of trouble thinking nice thoughts at the moment."

"Well, that's a shame because he's frantic about you, and angry as hell about Caroline. There's a lot more to this story than you think, Lizzy, and you don't know the half of it. But let's start at the beginning - Annie and I are here to fill you in."

Jane came back with a tray of food and the wine just in time to hear Charlotte launch into her story about Caroline. What Jane heard made her wonder even more how Charles and his sister could be related. With the exception of herself, Caroline had managed to hurt every other person in the room.

She listened in amazement as Charlotte related her own experiences with Caroline.

"What you don't know, Lizzy, is that I was engaged at one point in time."

"You! But you hate the idea of getting married. You run faster than anyone I know if a guy even looks like he might be starting to get serious. Who was he?"

"Suffice to say he was someone that Caroline couldn't keep her greasy, little mitts off. I was madly in love with Greg. Totally, recklessly, over-the-moon in love. Talk about young and stupid. It was the week before our wedding and he was at his buck's night with the guys. Caroline and I knew each other socially. She had been 'seeing' one of Greg's friends, and we ran into each other on occasion. She was fairly young at the time, well, compared to the rest of the wives and girlfriends, but even then she was a bitch. Always trying to come onto all the other boyfriends and husbands-she wasn't real fussy. The guys of course, were blind. They thought she was so hot. The only head they could think with whenever she was around was the one at the head of their cock. Anyway, it was late, the party was in full swing and guess who gate-crashed? You got it-fucking Caroline! The guys were pretty drunk … she was horny and very available so I was told … I don't have to draw a picture. I found her and Greg still in bed together the next morning when I went around to his place. Sound familiar?" She looked at Annie, who nodded back at her. "There was no mistaking what had gone on. God! The room just reeked of sex. Needless to say, the wedding was off."

"Oh, Char. I'm so sorry." Lizzy reached over to grasp her friend's hand. "You never said anything. I always wondered why …"

"Yeah, well that kind of experience has a way of turning you off the whole marriage thing. I try not to think about it, let alone talk about it."

"It explains a lot, though."

"Let's just say that I wouldn't trust Caroline Bingley as far as I could throw her. Okay, that's my story, but I think the one you'll be most interested in, is Annie's. Annie?" Charlotte took a big gulp of wine and sat back in her seat, tucking her legs up under her.

"Charlotte filled me in on the way here about what happened this morning, Lizzy," said Annie gently, "and I know we don't know each other very well, but I'm not blind to the pain you're feeling, believe me. But I also know how much Will loves you. I think this is the first time I've ever seen him like this with a woman. I know you're probably angry with him right now, but hear me out and you may just change your mind, okay?"

Lizzy nodded.

Annie related the story of the New Year's Eve she had found Will and Caroline in bed together. "Even though Will and I weren't engaged, we had been seeing each other for quite a while and I reacted much the same way you did, Lizzy. I was angry and hurt - I couldn't understand how he could have done something like that to me. It was only some time later, when I finally asked him what had really happened, that I realized the mistake I had made by jumping to conclusions, and by then it was too late for Will and me. I don't want to see you make the same mistake. To this day, I don't know for certain if Will and Caroline slept together - not even Will is sure of that - but he isn't the type of man who would deliberately sleep with a woman when he is involved with somebody else. I do know that he was very, very drunk that night. He and Richard had apparently been drinking most of the day and all night. All he remembers is stumbling to bed to lay down and sleep it off. He woke up when I found them in the morning. Caroline was naked in bed with him, wrapped around him like a bloody boa constrictor. I'm not sure who got the bigger fright - Will or me. But he says he passed out and can't remember a thing and I believe him. If nothing else, Will is the most honest man I know. He was never fond of her - he really only tolerated her because she was Charles's sister."

"So we don't know if he did or didn't. In which case, James may not be his son." Lizzy looked thoughtful.

"He disliked Caroline so much, Lizzy, that now I find it hard to believe he would have slept with her no matter how drunk he was. He tried to tell me that, but I was so hurt I just wouldn't listen. We broke up over it. Too much, too many hurtful words had passed between us for us to go back. And so Caroline won again. I don't like to speak unkindly of people, but Caroline Bingley is a sneaky, manipulative bitch."

"Where Caroline is concerned, Annie, you can be as unkind as you like," said Charlotte.

"So," said Jane, "Will isn't sure if he and Caroline even slept together?"

"No," said Annie. "So don't judge him just yet, Lizzy. Not until you speak to him. Don't make the mistake I did. I don't want Caroline to win this time."

"Amen to that!" said Charlotte.

Lizzy had been sitting silently through their stories, and now she sat up straighter. "If what you're both telling me is true, and I have no reason to doubt either of you, then Caroline seems to take special delight in breaking up relationships, and this could be another ploy on her part to do just that."

"And don't forget, this is Will, Lizzy. She has always wanted him," said Annie.

"So, who is the father of James, then?"

"Who knows!" sighed Charlotte. "I think she's slept with half of Sydney. Could be anyone."

"I feel sorry for James - having Caroline for a mother," said Jane softly.

"We all do, honey, but I think the most important thing is to find out who the real father is, don't you?" asked Charlotte. "Let's just take this one step at a time."

"So, what do we do?" asked Lizzy.

"I was hoping you'd ask that," said Charlotte, a devilish gleam in her eye. "I think I have a plan. But first, who's for another wine?"

A few hours and three bottles of wine later, the girls were still in the lounge-room, slightly tipsy and feeling no pain. From her horizontal vantage point with her head on Jane's lap, Lizzy blinked and tried once again to focus. Two Charlottes had moved to the floor and were stretched out on the carpet, their heads resting on a propped elbow. Lizzy shook her head to clear the image and was pleased to see one Charlotte after all. Annie was curled up in the lounge chair, her knees pulled up under her chin, her face slightly flushed. They were all laughing and Lizzy felt better. She hadn't had such a girlie afternoon in ages. Lizzy had decided, not for the first time, that her friend Charlotte was a very naughty girl, if the story of her latest male conquest was anything to go on. A noise pierced their laughter, and Lizzy looked blankly at the sound.

"Wha's that?"

"I think they call that a doorbell, Lizzy-girl," lisped Charlotte slightly, still chuckling.

"But who could it be?"

The bell rang again - twice.

"Hey, maybe it's the postman," said Annie, giggling. "He always rings twice doesn't he?"

"That is soooooo weak, Annie," laughed Charlotte. "You got any hunky neighbours who might be beating down a path to your door, girls?"

Lizzy grinned as a wicked thought crossed her mind. "Well, there's John upstairs, but he's married-dammit! Nice butt, though."

"Lizzy!" said Jane.

"Oh, come on, Jane. I've caught you peeking too when he's been out there hanging out the washing."

"Oooh, Jane," laughed Charlotte, "whatever would Charles say?"

"Charles' is the only 'butt' I'm interested in. His is very, very nice," she said grinning.

"Hey, I've gotta work with the guy. Don't go putting those sorts of ideas in my head," said Charlotte with a groan, causing the others to chuckle.

Three buzzes in quick succession broke into their laughter.

"I guess we should answer it," sighed Lizzy, not moving.

"Yeah." Charlotte tried to get up and fell back laughing. "I can't get up."

Somebody started banging on the door.

"Lizzy! Are you in there?"

"That sounds like William," said Lizzy, and shook her head as she tried to clear it.

Another thump on the door was followed by the sounds of muffled talking.

Jane lifted Lizzy's head from her lap, and stood, unsteady for a moment. "I'll go."

Will, fist raised, was about to bang on the door again, when it opened suddenly and he had to pull his hand up quick smart before he bopped Jane on the nose.

"Will? Richard? What are you doing here?"

Behind him, Richard started to laugh. "See, Cuz, I told you they'd be fine. It looks like the girls are having a nice little party.

Moving Jane gently to one side, Will brushed past her and rushed into the flat, pulling up fast when he saw the state of the lounge-room. A variety of plates, glasses and bodies were strewn about in apparent abandon. He spied Lizzy on the lounge, looking at him blearily with a mixture of surprise and fire in her eyes.

"What're you doing here?" asked Lizzy, squinting up at him as she tried to focus.

He squashed the urge to rush over to her and hug her. From the look in her eyes, he had his work cut out for him.

"Yes, Will," said Charlotte. "I told you I'd call and give you the all clear. Didn't you believe me?" She attempted to look wounded.

"What 'all clear'?" asked Lizzy in confusion.

"Never mind, Lizzy," giggled Charlotte. "Just have another sip of that fine wine you're almost spilling."

"I got tired of waiting, Charlotte," said Will, as he took the offending glass out of Lizzy's hand and put it on the table. "And I think you've had quite enough for one day, love," he said to Lizzy as he looked down at her with softness in his eyes. "We tried to call, you know, but no one answered the damn phone. We were worried."

"We're fine, aren't we girls?" slurred Lizzy. "Now go 'way."

"I've come to take you home, baby." This was not going to be easy.

"I am home. I live here, in case you haven' noticed."

"No, sweetheart," he tried to explain gently. "Your home is with me, and that's where I'm taking you."

"I won't go. We're having a nice time, aren't we, girls?"

Will felt a hand slap on his back as Richard came up behind him.

"This is every man's fantasy, Will. Four gorgeous women and two guys," he said, looking at the ladies spread out before him.

"Oooh, I know what you're thinking. You're such a naughty boy, Fitzy," said Charlotte.

"Richard?" asked Lizzy, sitting up and spotting him, a huge smile breaking over her face. "Sweetie!"

A wave of jealousy that he tried hard to crush swept over Will at the happy look on her face as she caught sight of his cousin. Pushing it away, he leaned over Lizzy, effectively blocking her view. "Time to go, love. The party's over." Lizzy's hands batting him away had no effect, except to make him more determined. He wanted her safe tonight where he could keep an eye on her. Time enough tomorrow to sort out the mess he was in. For tonight, he just needed to hold her. And being made to cool his heels at Charles' for the last four hours until he 'calmed down' had done little for his patience, which was starting to wear very thin. He wanted Lizzy home with him - now. He was in no mood to argue.

"Come on, Lizzy. Let's go."



"You heard me, bigguy. I'm not going anywhere with you."

"Lizzy …"

Lizzy was in no mood to fight. She was tired and she wanted to go to bed-alone. She looked at William, knew there was something she was meant to remember, but for the life of her she couldn't think what it was. All she wanted to do was sleep, and she shut her eyes to do just that.

"Come on, Lizzy …" sighed Will, trying hard to stay calm.

"No!" she said.

"Fine then. Have it your way." And bending down, he scooped a mildly protesting Lizzy up in his arms as if she were light as a feather.

"You are a party pooper, William," huffed Lizzy. And even though she was inclined to object further, she couldn't deny that it felt good to be held by him-better than she'd felt all day. Instinctively, she burrowed further into his arms. He smelled so good.

He risked a lop-sided smile at the familiar feel of Lizzy in his arms again. Will looked at her as she grabbed a bunch of his shirt into her hands, and felt his heart trip. "Whatever it takes, sweetheart. Whatever it takes."

"Are you going to be all right with the rest of them?" he asked a bemused Richard.

"Sure. Off you go. Jane can call Charles to come and get her," he looked at Jane as she nodded at him, smiling, "and I'll take care of these other two troublemakers."

"So, you're finally going to take care of me, are you, Richard? This will be good," said Charlotte, her eyes heavy-lidded as she looked hungrily at him.

"Just pipe down, you, or I'll have to put you across my knee," laughed Richard.

"Promises, promises …" said Charlotte huskily.

"Do you think he can handle both of us at once, Charlotte?" asked Annie.

"Annie! You bad girl," laughed Charlotte.

Suddenly realizing what she'd said turned Annie a delightful shade of pink. "I didn't mean … what I meant was … Oh, what the hell."

Richard grinned back and rolled his eyes at his cousin, pushing him gently towards the door. "We'll be fine. Get moving before that feisty little bundle you're carrying gets away."

"Thanks, mate."

"I love you, Richard," said a muffled little voice from within Will's arms.

"I love you, too, sweet. Now off you go and let your fiancι look after you."

"He's a bully."

Will sighed in exasperation as he moved towards the front door. He stood there wondering how on earth he was going to get it open with Lizzy in his arms, when an arm reached around him and opened it for him. He turned to see Jane smiling up at him.

"Take good care of her, Will."

"You know I will, Jane. And thanks." He leaned down to peck her on the cheek before turning sideways to get his precious bundle out the door.

"Put me down, William Darcy. I can walk," pouted Lizzy.

"If you think I'm letting you go, think again. And you can take that any way you want to, Lizzy, my love," he said firmly. He wouldn't give in to the tender feelings that bubbled just near the surface. Time enough for that later. Now he just wanted to get Lizzy home where he could look after her. The rest of it could all wait.

"I love you," said a small voice sleepily.

"And I love you, too," said Will, as he hugged her tightly.

Chapter Twelve