Richard couldn't believe it. For the second time in two weeks he was sitting in Charlotte's living room, only this time it was just the two of them. From his vantage point, he could watch her as well as hear her speak from the open plan kitchen. She was carrying on small talk while she fixed them some lunch and he allowed his mind to wander. And wander it did. Right along with his eyes. She was wearing a dress made of some sort of floaty material that swished around her legs as she walked. His eyes grazed up those beautiful pins, and he realised it was the first time he had seen her in anything other than pants or jeans, which was a hell of a shame. She had legs that started at her ankles and went all the way up to her neck, that definitely deserved to be shown off. He felt a tickling in his groin when she bent over to get something out of the oven. He thanked his lucky stars that she didn't have one of those wall ones! Finally, she stood up and faced him, leaning on the cupboard. Her face was flushed from the heat, and wisps of hair floated around her face that she blew away impatiently. The tickle grew to a throb. Her lips, wonderfully rosy and full, were moving and he watched with a small smile on his face, imagining
"For god's sake, Rich. Have you heard a single word I've said?"
"Sorry?" He smiled weakly, caught out.
"I should be flattered I suppose, that with all those gorgeous models you snap, you can still manage to work up a mini-drool at the sight of my less-than-perfect body?"
"I wouldn't say that, Charlotte. There's nothing wrong with your body." At her raised eyebrow, he mentally berated himself. Good going, Rich, he groaned in his head. How to really flatter a lady Shit!
"Well, gee, thanks for the vote of confidence. Is that your professional appraisal?"
Nothing professional about it, he thought to himself. This is purely personal.
"Now look, Fitzy. I didn't invite you over here for a free peep show. And I asked you if you're hungry?"
Hungry? Starving would be more like it and not for food. Hot and melt in your mouth, but definitely not what she just took out of the oven. He had the distinct impression that what he had an appetite for wasn't on the menu. Not this time-maybe not ever. She had the look of a woman who had been burned once too often by a man. He'd have to work on that. Show her that not all men were cretins where women were concerned. "Yeah, sure." He stood and walked over to her. "What have you got?"
"Not what I know you're looking for, Richie," she said with a teasing twinkle in her eye.
Okay, so she hadn't missed the look in his eyes. He had never professed to be subtle. 'Smooth and charming' were more his style. She looked like she was trying to stifle a chuckle, but he didn't care. She could laugh at him all she wanted. He knew that sooner or later he'd wipe that grin off her face and replace it with something infinitely preferable, not to mention pleasurable. He grinned back at her, making no attempt to disguise his intent.
"I'm so hungry, sweetpea, I'll lap up whatever you give me." Right - scratch 'smooth and charming'.
"Really? You big pussycat, you. You want it on the table or the floor?"
He groaned silently. This was not going to work. He tried to say something witty, but his tongue seemed to be permanently claved to the roof of his mouth which was about as dry as the desert during a sand storm. So words weren't an option. How about brooding? Brooding usually worked. He fixed her with his best brood, only to hear a giggle escape her. He stiffened in response. A giggle was not quite the response he was looking for. No woman ever giggled when he brooded.
"Look, Richard, as endearing as the little show is, forget it. I didn't invite you over here today to jump your bones, as cute as they may be. We need to talk about Caroline and the guy following Lizzy. End of story. And as for the other, I have a very nice selection of BOB's to take care of the rest of what I think you're offering."
"Battery Operated Boyfriends. You know the kind that just do their job, and you can turn off with the flick of a switch?"
She turned away to grab a couple of plates out of the overhead cupboard. He was momentarily distracted by the sight of her nipples peaking under the thin fabric. Then her words hit.
Turn off with the flick of a switch? "You mean vibrators?"
She looked at him with a smile that could only be described as wicked. And teasing and sinful.
"You got it, big boy. Best invention ever." She turned back and started spooning something onto the plates.
The woman was a menace! Now his mind was fuzzy and he couldn't think straight. A vision of naked Charlotte on her bed while he stood and watched or maybe helped, her legs wide open
And elbow in his stomach brought him out of his little fantasy. "Hmmm?" he managed, licking his lips.
"Jeez, Richard. You're drooling. Here, take this," she said handing him a couple of plates, "go in there, and take a seat. I'll be right behind you."
He shook his head and moved quickly. He had to get some space between them so that his brain could start functioning again. Having Charlotte so close was dangerous to his mental health.
She came in and sat opposite, putting one of the two opened stubbies in her hand in front of him.
"Now, about Caroline," she said, scooping some of the curry onto her fork.
Good, he thought with relief. Business first
"Under control," he said around a mouthful of rice. "We have someone looking into her movements over the last couple of years."
"Someone? I take it you mean, someone 'professional'?"
"Naturally. He called the other day to say he may have found something from the time she first arrived in London. But he's looking into it and should be back to us next week with any luck."
"I hope it's what we need to hear," said Charlotte with feeling. "I want this cleared up before the wedding if that's possible."
"I know, Char. I feel the same way. Caroline is such a bitch. Oh, did I tell you that she went to see Uncle Bill?"
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me," she sighed. "How did you find out?"
"Strangely enough, he called me. Wanted to know what was going on. Apparently he had tried to call Will, but Will's screening all calls these days, and after what happened at Catherine's, he is a bit reluctant to talk to his dad."
"Understandable. So, what did Bill say?"
"Now that's the thing that I don't get. I know what he said to Will about Lizzy, and I got a pretty good idea of what he said to Lizzy, too, but he asked me if I needed any help sorting things out."
"What do you think he meant by that?"
"I'm not sure, but I got the impression-and I could be wrong-that he was not overly impressed with sweet Caroline. Seems she said one or two things that got him kinda riled."
"Well, apparently, she pushed the fact that Will needed to do the right thing by her, and he should help her. Now as much as Bill is all anxious to have an heir to carry on the family name, he has known Caroline long enough to wonder about her motives. Not to mention the fact that she said, rather stupidly, that she would be as good for Will as Isabelle was for him." He smiled when Charlotte gasped. "Yeah, you don't get to Bill by comparing yourself with Isabelle. To him, that woman was like a goddess."
"Like Lizzy is to Will?" asked Charlotte, her voice going soft.
"Exactly," he said, his voice low and quiet.
"He worships the ground she walks on. I wonder what it's like to have a man " She stopped, embarrassed.
"Good grief! I told those two the other day all that mush was contagious. Blech! Who needs it?"
"We all need that kind of love. One day I hope you find it."
"Right. Now you were saying?"
He swigged another mouthful of beer to clear his throat. "Anyway, I think old Uncle Bill might be coming around to the idea of Lizzy and Will. Not fully, but he looks to be trying. He found out that Lizzy and I used to date and he asked a hell of a lot of questions about her."
"And you said nice things, naturally."
"You love her."
Charlotte looked right through him with those knowing eyes, but her words were gentle. Why lie? He didn't want to lie to Charlotte, not when they were finally becoming friends.
"I do. Who wouldn't?"
"You know what I mean," she said, her eyes pinning his.
"I do but it's not like you're thinking, Char. She's Will's now. I respect that. But it doesn't stop me loving her. We just weren't meant to be. Lizzy she I You know, I've kicked myself a hundred times over the years for letting her walk out of my life. But seeing her with Will, I know now why we didn't work out. Those two were meant to be together. And I'm happy for them. Very happy." Embarrassed with his declaration, he pushed his food around his plate absently.
Her hand reached over and covered his, warm and comforting.
"I think I could get to like this Richard. There's a lot more to him than you let most people see, I think."
"You see right through me, don't you, Char?" He rubbed the pad of his thumb over hers and looked up into her eyes-grey ones, soft as mink, that bored a hole right through him. Was it his imagination, or were things getting a little bit warm in here?
She patted his hand and looked back at her plate, as if she was aware too, that something had passed between them. The next few minutes passed in silence.
He felt a need to say something anything to get them out of the potential minefield in which they were travelling.
"How did the shopping go with Lizzy and Georgie? Anything strange happen?"
"No. I kept my eyes open as much as I could, but I didn't notice anybody following or watching us."
"Lizzy and Georgie didn't twig that something was up, did they?"
"No, I don't think so. Let's face it, they were both as excited as a couple of school girls. Georgie was great. I think she was tickled pink that Lizzy asked for her help finding a dress. And that girl has contacts that would put Marie Clare to shame. We got the red carpet treatment all the way."
As they finished, Charlotte got up to take the plates to the kitchen. "Feel like another beer?" she called out.
"Yes, thanks." Richard felt restless and standing was easier than sitting. Things got too intense when all he had to look at was Charlotte across the table from him. He walked over and picked up a small crystal figurine off the sideboard. It was a figure of a girl on a surfboard.
"Cute," he said as Charlotte came up behind him and handed him a beer.
He turned to her with it in his hand. She reached out and took it from him, a wistful smile creasing her face as she looked at it.
"It's me or meant to be."
He looked at her curiously, hoping she'd explain.
"I used to surf. Even thought of turning pro once."
"You surfed?" he asked, amazed at the thought.
Her laugh, warm and throaty, made him smile.
"I surfed for years. You should know you don't grow up on the northern beaches without a surfboard under your arm. Don't tell me you didn't have one?"
"Yeah, I did. But I don't ever remember seeing you out there. I would have remembered, I'm sure."
"Not unless you surfed Collaroy during the summer. A whole group of us girls formed a group. 'Chicks on Sticks' we called ourselves." She laughed again at the memory. "I won the NSW under 18 title three years running."
"You must have great balance," he winked.
"You better believe it, big guy. And all the rest that goes with it "
She didn't have to elaborate. Strong legs, strong arms, control lots of control.
She reached around him to put the little figurine back on the shelf, and as she did so, her breast brushed his arm. She must have felt it too - the jolt that went through him - because she looked at him sharply, surprise in her eyes.
He could feel the heat of her close to him. Standing there, looking down at her, he raked his gaze over every inch of her face-the bright eyes that sparkled with mischief, the crinkle in her nose as she smiled, and those lips red, moist a pale pink tongue came out to lick them and he felt it all the way to his toes.
Her eyes looked back at him, questioning, curious. It seemed only natural that he should kiss her. What would she taste like, he wondered? He tilted his head, his mouth moving slowly towards hers. He could feel her breath on his lips. Tantalizing, warm.
The doorbell rang.
Shit! he swore in his mind.
"Um I'd better get that," she said.
Did he imagine that her voice was husky? He let out the breath he didn't even realise he'd been holding and nodded. She moved to walk away, but he grabbed her arm gently.
"We're not finished, sweetpea."
"I have no idea what you mean." She looked at him, a hint of something he couldn't quite define in her eyes. But it was trouble-with a capital 'T'.
Lizzy sat in the doctor's surgery flicking impatiently through a dog-eared magazine. As she glanced at her watch, she noticed an hour had passed, and she thought of Will sitting downstairs in the car waiting for her.
Good! If he hadn't been so bloody pushy in the first place, neither of them would be sitting around waiting for her to get poked and prodded.
She was still fuming at how he had got her here. True, he had asked her to see a doctor a last week, but she had been way too busy getting ready for the wedding and tying up loose ends at work. Still, if he hadn't seen her nearly fall when she got up off the lounge too quickly earlier She ground her teeth together remembering the argument
"What are you doing?"
"Calling your doctor. What do you think?" he snapped.
"Put the phone down. You don't even know my doctor."
"Yes, I do." And to demonstrate he held up an appointment card and waved it in front of her face as he reached for the phone.
"Where did you get that from?"
"Your purse yesterday while you were snoozing. And if you don't like it well, sue me."
"Will Darcy, if you think I'm going to "
"What? Pass out on your way down the aisle? No, Lizzy. You're going and that's final."
"You pushy, overbearing, control freak "
Her tirade was halted abruptly when he started talking into the phone.
And now, here she was, cooling her heels. But at least so was he. She hoped he was bored out of his brain. Finally, she heard her name called and stood to follow the nurse.
He looked at her closely when she slipped into the car. Well, at least she didn't look quite so pissed off at him.
"What did he say?"
"He thinks I may have picked up a virus. And I'm run down. Nothing I didn't know already."
"Is that all?"
"He gave the name of a tonic to take and took some blood. Oh, and my blood pressure is a little bit higher than normal. Stress, just like I told you. Satisfied?"
"When do you get the results back from the blood tests?"
"I don't know, Will. They said they'll call me. Now can we please go home? I'm tired and I want to have a nap."
"Sure, babe. Straight home." He flicked the indicator as he pulled out into the stream of traffic. "Look, I'm sorry I was so pushy. I just worry about you."
"I know, and I appreciate that you do, but just not so much with the steamroller next time, okay?"
What was he supposed to say to that? Sure, I'll stand back and watch you run yourself into the ground? Not likely. So he said nothing. It didn't matter anyway. Her eyes had already closed.
Lizzy took the next two days off work. Will had insisted and Charles, Mr Workaholic himself, agreed that her health was more important than work. And now that Elizabeth Courtois didn't seem to be writing anything that needed editing lately, her workload had reduced considerably.
Will had gone out with Richard to finalise the alterations on the tuxes for the wedding and Mrs Reynolds was out shopping. The house was quiet. She sighed to herself as she curled up on the lounge, pulling the cushion under her head. A small smile lifted the corners of her mouth as her eyes drifted closed.
She must have dozed off, even though she hadn't realised, because the doorbell woke her with a start. Swinging her legs over the side of the couch, she sat up and paused for a moment, waiting for the light-headedness to pass. Still feeling a little groggy, she padded to the door on bare feet.
She ran her hand through her hair to attempt to straighten it a little as she opened the door and froze.
"What are you doing here?"
Oh, Christ! "I live here, Caroline. What about you? This is a bit out of your way, isn't it?"
"I came here to see Will," she said, breezing her way past Lizzy and into the house. "Shouldn't you be at work or something? I'm sure my brother doesn't pay you just to lie around. Or maybe that's how you do it?"
Lizzy bristled at her snide, and thinly veiled insinuation. "From what I hear, I would have thought that was more your style, Caroline. And Will's not here, so why don't you just leave?"
"You think you're very clever, don't you? But you're not married to him yet."
"Wake up and smell the coffee, Caroline! Will doesn't want you. He never did. Are you totally dense?"
"Not nearly as dense as you are if you think Will will stay with you. I can offer him something that you can't. You think he hasn't thought about that? You're sterile, Lizzy. A failure as a woman."
Lizzy stepped back at the venom in her words. The hard part was that Caroline wasn't saying anything that Lizzy hadn't already thought herself-until Will had convinced her to see his way of looking at things. But Caroline wasn't finished
"And I intend to make him realise that. James is his son, Lizzy. His. Mine and his. We will never be out of his life, and sooner or later, he will realise what he had to give up to be with you, and he'll be bitter and grow to hate you. I've spoken to his father and he's on my side, too. So just give it up!"
Lizzy's anger grew, and she took a breath, prepared to flay Caroline alive verbally when a wave of dizziness came over her. Reaching for the wall, she leaned on it to steady herself, feeling strong arms go around her, supporting her.
"You've just demonstrated exactly why Will would never want you over Lizzy, Caroline. You're mean, vindictive and most of all, you're a liar. I would never want you for a daughter-in-law-child or no."
"Bill?" Lizzy gasped weakly. "Where how did you ?"
"The door was open. I heard the voices " he said by way of explanation.
"Every word, Lizzy. Come on, let's sit you down before you fall down." Without even turning to Caroline, he dismissed her. "I think you know the way out, Caroline. It would be a good idea if you stayed away and didn't upset Lizzy. Will would be furious."
"You think it's going to be that easy to get rid of me? Ha! This isn't over yet!" Caroline called on her way out.
Bill crouched down in front of Lizzy, easing her down to her previous position on the lounge. "Just lie there for a minute and breathe deeply. You'll feel better soon."
"I'm sorry you had to hear all that, Mr Darcy."
"It's Bill, Lizzy, and I'm just glad I arrived when I did. Are you all right? You don't look so hot."
"Just a bit run down. Why are you here?"
He dropped his head, his voice low. "I actually came to see Will. He won't answer my phone calls and I had something I wanted to tell him."
"Bill?" Her voice sounded small, even to her own ears. "I know you and I didn't get off to a great start, and I know how disappointed you are that I can't have children, but I really love Will " She could feel those blasted tears wanting to fall again.
"Shush," he said. "Don't get yourself upset." He held her hands in his, looking down at them as if he had something he wanted to say but couldn't find the words. Lizzy waited.
"This isn't easy for me to say, Lizzy, but I'm sorry. I've been an old fool. I thought the best thing for Will was what I wanted for him. I guess I forgot what it feels like to love a woman the way that I can see Will loves you. Like I loved Isabelle," he stated quietly. "She was the only thing I wanted-more even than children. Will and Georgie were just the icing on the cake. But when Isabelle died, I realised that kids aren't enough when part of your heart has died, too. You and Will made me remember."
She felt all her anger drop away as she shared his pain.
"Now I know why Will is going to be such a wonderful husband. If he loves me half as much as you loved your wife, Bill, I'll be a very lucky woman."
They both turned at the sound of Will's voice.
"As much if not more," he said, pushing off the wall where he had paused, leaning, when he came in.
"Son," said Bill, standing up. "I meant it. For what its worth, you and Lizzy have my blessing."
"Thanks, Dad. It means a lot to us, doesn't it, Lizzy?" he replied, looking down at Lizzy and seeing her nod.
Just as Lizzy was about to pick up the phone to call Jane, it rang. Surprised, she picked it up.
"Hello. Lizzy Bennet speaking."
"It's Kelly, Liz. Can you get down here at 3pm? "
"Yes. Today. I'm holding an appointment for you. Think you can make it?"
Kelly, Dr Johansson's receptionist, never held appointments for anybody, a fact that was not lost on her.
"But it's Saturday?"
"That's the day after Friday, yes?" she joked. " Look, people get sick on weekends, too. Now, can you make it, or should I book you in for Monday?"
"I guess so. The results are back in?" Stupid question, she realised. Why else all the rush? Holding onto that thought meant that her mind tripped headlong into imagining all sorts of bad things. What if it was more than being rundown? "What does the report say, Kel?" Worry bred impatience.
"You know I can't tell you over the phone, Lizzy. Just be here at 3. See you then."
"Okay. Bye," she said, listening to the connection click.
She looked at her watch. 2.30 pm. To get there in time and park, she would have to leave in 15 minutes. She strolled out to the deck, looking out over the beach to see if Will was anywhere in sight. He wasn't, which meant he was either right up the other end still jogging, or he was in the water, cooling off. Anyway, it didn't matter. She was quite capable of getting herself to the doctor's. She'd just leave him a note.
She dashed upstairs to freshen up and change. Quickly scribbling a note on a sheet of paper big enough that not even Blind Freddie could miss it, she stuck it on the door to his office with a blob of Bluetac, right where he would see it when he came in-before he could go off into a fit of panic. Really, the guy's nerves were shot to pieces these days. Always hovering, asking her where she was going, who she was with. It was enough to drive a sane person barmy.
Kelly was true to her word. She only had to wait ten minutes and then she was in Dr Johansson's office. She and Jane had been going to Dr Jo since they were teenagers and he had become like a close friend. Surprising, in these days of 'quick in, quick out' GP's, he was one of the old school-the type of doctor who became a family friend along the way.
Now, however, he was looking at her strangely, almost as if he didn't quite know how to tell her what was wrong.
"You've been resting, Lizzy?" he asked, as he took her blood pressure.
"Like Sleeping Beauty. Don't let me close my eyes here-I'll be asleep in a flash," she joked.
"Good. Good. And your appetite? No more vomiting apart from those few times you mentioned?"
"No. Look," she said, impatience as well as worry creeping into her voice, "I'm fine. Stop beating around the bush, Doctor Jo. I'm getting married in a couple of weeks. Do you think you could tell me sometime before then? Oh hell," she said, suddenly. "It's not something that will stop me from marrying Will, is it?"
"Calm down, Lizzy. Your blood pressure is still a little bit high, and you working yourself into a tizz won't help matters. No," he said, choosing his words carefully, "I want you to get married as soon as you can."
"Why?" Her voice trembled in spite of her attempts to remain calm.
"You're pregnant, Lizzy. About eight weeks as far as I can figure without an ultrasound." He leaned back in his seat watching her closely.
She slumped back in her seat, feeling like she'd just had the wind knocked out of her. Pregnant? No! She couldn't be. Couldn't. Could she? She was almost scared to say the word out loud.
"Pr pregnant? Me? Are you sure? How?"
"Well, apart from the obvious," he teased, obviously trying to lighten the news. "I know you thought you couldn't fall, Lizzy, but we never proved the reasons why that was so with you and Anthony. And we didn't have the chance to really see if it was possible, as you many recall."
"I know, but " Further words failed her as the knowledge finally hit her like a ten-tonne truck, and she did what she guessed any highly-strung, pregnant woman would naturally do. She burst into tears.
"Hey," soothed Dr Johansson, coming around from his desk to sit beside her and comfort her. "I hope they're happy tears?" he asked, offering her a box of tissues.
"I just can't believe it! Me pregnant!" Which only started her off again. "So the tiredness, the tears, the vomiting? That's all it was?"
It was many moments before she could talk again. Absorbing that kind of news tended to make her just a little speechless. She thought about Will and how much he wanted kids, how happy he would be, and tears streamed down her face. "Definitely happy tears," she said. She glanced down and her shaking hand moved to her tummy, sliding over it softly, lovingly. "A baby. Oh, Dr Jo, you have no idea just how happy I am."
"What about Will?"
"Will?" She took a moment to picture his face, the ecstatic joy she knew would be written all over it. "You're kidding, right? He's going to be over the moon."
"Do you want to call him from here? I can step outside "
"No," she replied, a smile breaking over her face, "I think I'll wait for the perfect moment, and I think I know just when that will be."
"If you're sure," he laughed. "Now, we need you to have an ultrasound before the wedding. How about if I refer you to a radiographer near you in the city? You can go in your lunchbreak?"
They cleared up the rest of the details. Lizzy was glad that he wrote them down because she was flying so high she knew she wouldn't remember half of them later.
She ducked into the rest room on her way out to freshen up and hide the traces of her crying.
Schooling her features into a more serious mien, she drove home. Little bubbles of joy kept escaping though that she was powerless to stop.
Pulling quietly into the driveway, she noticed a figure that looked vaguely familiar leaning on the fence next door.
Will turned as he heard the car pull up in the driveway. "Thank God! That must be Lizzy now," he said to Richard. "Let's talk about this later when she's having a nap."
"Yeah. No problem."
They continued talking about other things while they waited, but after a minute or two, Will became alarmed when Lizzy didn't come inside.
Striding out through the foyer, he walked out onto the doorstep and his heart froze.
The man was there, a grin on his face, and he was watching Lizzy!
His breath caught in his throat, and as he watched, time seemed to hang, events moving forward in slow motion. He saw Lizzy standing there, a questioning look in her eyes. The smile on the man's face never wavered as he moved from his position leaning on the fence and walked towards her, and for a second Will stood frozen-shock, horror and panic shooting through him as he saw Lizzy smile suddenly and reach out to the grinning man.
"Noooo!!!!" Real time kicked in with a lurch and he sprinted over to them just as the man was reaching for her. "Don't you touch her, you fucking bastard!" he yelled, fury and rage competing wildly within him.
Grabbing Lizzy, he pulled her back against him roughly, then moved her protectively around behind him as he glared at the man. "You touch one hair on her head, and I'll fucking kill you," he growled.
"Not now, Lizzy. You don't know what's been going on."
"If you'd just let me explain "
"He's the one who needs to explain, and that's exactly what he's going to do. Right now."
"He really is a tiger, isn't he, sweetie?" the man said, his grin even wider than before.
"Tell me about it," she sighed. She managed to break free of his hold on her and came to stand beside him. "Will?" she asked, looking up at him.
"What?" he asked, not breaking his glare with the bastard who had been following her for weeks.
"Honey? Just stop a second. William Darcy, I'd like you to meet Bill Collins, my uncle. Uncle Bill, my fiancι, William."
"Nice to meet you, William," Bill said, holding out his hand to Will.
"Will is fine. And not so fast. Maybe you'd like to tell me why you've been following Lizzy for the past few weeks?"
"You have?" asked Lizzy in surprise.
"Nah. Actually I've been following Will here," he smiled. "Just making sure my niece wasn't getting herself involved with a shifty character."
"Maybe we could take this inside, boys and girls. I have some information for you that you might find very interesting."
They met Richard in the entryway. He raised his eyebrow in confusion, then closed the door and followed them in.
"You're Richard Fitzwilliam?" Bill asked, holding his hand out to Richard, nodding as Richard shook it.
"We've only spoken on the phone, but it's good to meet you, finally. I'm Bill Collins."
The tension in the room was eased when Richard broke out laughing.
"This is the man you've been worried about?" he asked Will.
"Yes," he bit off. "What's so bloody funny?"
"Oh, you're gonna love this," he replied, his eyes twinkling mischievously. Bill Collins is the guy I we hired to look into the Caroline mess.
"You're joking!" said Will in disbelief.
"No, he's not, sugar pie," said Bill. "And I think you might be interested to hear what I have to tell you. But first, can I get a drink, Lizzy my sweet? I'm parched as hell. A beer if you have it," he called to her on her way through to the kitchen.
Will followed her, rounding her up as she closed the fridge door. "Uncle Bill? Sugar pie?
Lizzy tried to stifle a giggle. "Don't worry. Uncle Bill is gay, but you're safe, sugar pie. He already has a partner."
"Thank heavens for small mercies!" he sighed. "Come on," he said, taking the beer from her and grabbing her hand. "I'm dying to hear what he has to say. But just stay close. One fright from you today was more than enough."
"So, after getting requests from three different clients in the space of one week to look into a situation that either directly or indirectly involved my lovely niece," he said, winking at Lizzy. "naturally I was curious."
"If you don't mind us asking, who were the other two?" asked Richard.
"Funny, that. They were related, although the request was slightly different from each. First off, I had a call from a Catherine de Bourgh. Nasty woman, that one. And Lizzy, my sweet," he said, mussing her hair, "she don't like you one little bit."
"Thanks for the information, Uncle Bill, but I kinda worked that one out on my own."
"Bloody Catherine!" shot Will. "What the hell is she up to now?"
"Two things, actually. To see what dirt I could dig up on Lizzy, and to look into a Ms Caroline Bingley and the child that is supposedly yours, Will."
"And the other one?" asked Richard.
"This was the bit that really caught my interest. Two ladies working together. Anne de Bourgh, obviously a relation to Catherine. The surname isn't exactly common. And Charlotte Lucas."
"Annie and Charlotte?" exclaimed Lizzy. "Let me guess. They wanted you to look into Caroline's past and find out about James, too."
"You got it," said Bill. "And of course, when you two gents made the same request well, you can understand why my curiosity was piqued. It's not often I get asked by three different parties to investigate the same person within the space of a week. And all roads seemed to lead to Rome, as they say, which would be you, Lizzy. I was interested to find out what the link was. Now I know."
"So, you ended up taking our job. What about the other two?" asked Richard.
"I took them all, for a couple of reasons. For a start, I figured why not get paid three times for finding out the same information, but when I realised our Lizzy was involved, I decided it wouldn't help her if I sent the other two packing to find another investigator. Much better to keep this little bonfire under my control."
"Stick Charlotte and Annie's tab on ours," insisted Richard.
"No need," said Bill. "I'll pick up the tab for Charlotte and Annie as well as this one. Consider it my wedding present."
"I take it you've found something? Apart from the fact that I am not shifty, of course," said Will, a slight edge to his voice. He couldn't help it. The fact that he was Lizzy's uncle meant squat to him. And he wasn't about to forgive him in two seconds for the panic he'd been in over the last few weeks thinking Lizzy was in some sort of danger.
"Grrrooooooowl," said Uncle Bill. "Fiesty, aren't we, sugar? Look, don't sweat it, Will. For a start, most people never even know I'm there, so the fact that you spotted me at all means that I can feel a whole lot better about Lizzy marrying you. At least I know now that she'll be safe with you."
"Thanks, Uncle Bill," said Lizzy with a grin. "Well, that explains why you've been shadowing me night and day for the past few weeks, honey," she said, looking up at Will standing behind her. She patted the hand he had resting on her shoulder. "I was starting to wonder "
"Don't knock it, Lizzy. Unlike that pussy you were married to before, at least Dear Boy here loves you."
"I know he does," she said, looking affectionately up at Will. "And I love him, too."
"At least you're keeping it in the family," he grinned, flicking a glance to Richard.
"Now, look here," started Richard.
"Down, Richard. He's only teasing," she laughed. "I take it you knew that I used to go out with Richard?" she asked Bill.
"I keep an eye on family when I can," he said, a twinkle in his eye. "Couldn't understand why you two never got more serious. You certainly were sweet on each other," he teased.
"Can we get back to the point, please?" asked Will, glaring at Bill, and shooting a glance at Richard who just winked back at him.
"Aaah, yes. The point. Which is, 'who is the father of Caroline Bingley's son? That girl's led a 'colourful' life. I'll say that for her. If she ever decided to write an autobiography, some very interesting people had better duck for cover. But the short answer is, the boy isn't yours, Will."
"Thank god!" said Will.
"Amen to that," added Richard.
"Personally, I don't see the attraction she has for so many men, but then scrawny-arsed women aren't really my thing," he said, a wicked grin creasing his face.
"Did you find out who the father of James is?" asked Lizzy.
"Why so sure then?" asked Will. "I mean, I'm overjoyed more than you can imagine to have it confirmed that it's not me, but how did you work that out if you don't know who the father is?"
"Simple. Hospital records."
"But they're classified," replied Lizzy.
"Nothing's classified for the right price, sweetie," Bill explained. "Fact of life, unfortunately. But even though Caroline had the child eight months after she left Australia, which would have put a tryst in Australia in the ball park, the records indicated that the boy was born five weeks premature, which means, of course, that the father is in England. I'm still tracing her love life over there and that could take weeks. She's never one to lie idle, if you know what I mean."
"That bitch! She knew!" She turned to Will. "All the time, she knew that James couldn't have been yours."
"Now that we've established that fact," said Bill, "you want me to keep looking?"
"No," said Will.
"Yes, said Richard, looking at his cousin. "We need to know, mate. And I think that Charles would agree. We need to find out who the boy's real father is. And personally, I'm curious as hell."
"No problem," said Bill. "I'm on the case," he grinned. "My contacts are looking into it as we speak."
Lizzy stood and walked over to Bill, threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. "Thank you," she said sincerely. "This is just about the best wedding present anyone could have given us."
"My pleasure, sweetie," he said returning the hug. "Now, I better go. I'll be in touch when I have more to tell you. And next time, Will, I'll just come up to the front door and knock," he laughed.
"Before you go," said Richard, "what are you going to do about Catherine?"
"Catherine de Bourgh? I'll just string the old battleaxe along until after the wedding. She can afford it, and it'll serve the old bitch right for trying to hurt our Lizzy."
"You will be at the wedding, won't you, Uncle Bill?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world. See you in a couple of weeks."
"I know. Not long now. I can't believe how quickly the time is going. Are we going to be ready on time?"
Lizzy was laying on her side with her head on his lap, the rest of her curled up on the lounge, and she wriggled around to face him.
"I haven't done a thing to help. Sorry."
"All you have to do is turn up on the day. That's the only thing that's important to me. By the way, have I told you lately how much I love you?"
"All the time, honey, but I never get tired of hearing it."
"Good. Because I love saying it."
Will!" she said, sitting up suddenly.
"What? What's wrong? What did you forget?"
"Our honeymoon! We haven't even decided where we're going to go. Is it too late to book somewhere?"
"No need," he said, pulling her up onto his lap and wrapping his arms around her. "It's all organised."
"You've done it already? Without asking me?"
"It's a surprise," he chuckled. "And don't worry. You'll love it."
"Is it somewhere romantic?"
"And you're going to tell me?"
"Rat!" she said, punching him lightly on the arm.
"I told you," he laughed. "It's a surprise. You'll just have to trust me."
"I do," she said, looking at him, her eyes shining.