Section I, Next Section
Being a sequel to "Reflections"
Georgiana Darcy inspected the room one more time to assure herself that all was ready. The decorations were in place, the food prepared and the flowers arranged. Mrs. Reynolds had spared no efforts on the part of any of the staff in the execution of their tasks.
Georgiana smiled as she recalled the conversation between herself and that good woman only a week before.........
"Why, Miss Georgiana! I didn't expect you home this weekend, with your brother away." Mrs. Reynolds looked to the younger woman's companion enquiringly.
"Mrs. Reynolds, this is Brian Osborne. Could you see to fixing up a room for him? We'll be staying until Sunday afternoon." Georgiana paused, looking puzzled. "Speaking of my brother, I tried several times this week to reach him at his London flat. Do you know if he is staying somewhere else in town, for I never received any reply, and I left several messages."
Mrs. Reynolds smiled. "He isn't in London."
"Pardon me?" Georgiana asked, surprised. "He told me that's where he and Elizabeth were going. If they aren't in London, where are they?"
"I can't say exactly where they went, but then, your brother went to a good deal of trouble to keep it a secret. After all, what's the point of eloping if everyone knows about it?" Mrs. Reynolds was amused at the expression on the younger woman's face. "They will be back next Saturday."
Georgiana looked at Brian in amazement. "It's been one surprise after another with Will this year! I would never have thought he would run off and get married without letting any of us in on it!" She turned back to Mrs. Reynolds. "Are you certain that's what they've done?"
The older woman nodded. "Oh, definitely. They were back and forth to Leeds all week, bringing home all sorts of new clothes....all for a much warmer climate!"
"But where is William, then?"
"He went with them." At Georgiana's confused expression, she explained. "They hired a nanny to accompany them."
"Oh." Georgiana smiled happily. "This old place is certainly going to be lively with little William around! What do you think, Mrs. Reynolds?"
"I think it is high time and long overdue, Miss Georgiana!" she replied. "If you'll excuse me, I'll just see to that room and have some tea sent up for you."
"Thank you, that would be nice." Georgiana said.
In the intervening week, Georgiana and Mrs. Reynolds orchestrated a celebration for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy's return. She may have had to miss out on the wedding itself, but there was no way that Georgiana would let her brother's marriage go unremarked once the couple returned.
The first thing she had to do was ring Charles Bingley to apprise them of the situation. Next she issued an invitation for them to come, with the rest of Elizabeth's family, to Pemberley the following weekend. Then she set about selecting the menu, decorations and determining what other guests to invite. Their cousins, the Fitzwilliams, were most welcome, of course. But Georgiana wasn't as sure about Aunt Catherine and her daughter, Anne. Will hadn't been on very good terms with them over the last several years, if indeed he had ever been on good terms with their aunt at all! She crossed their names off the list.
In time, everything was set. Will had rung Mrs. Reynolds from Tahiti, of all places, to confirm that they would be back late Saturday afternoon, and Georgiana made sure that the guests should all be at Pemberley well in advance of their arrival. Georgiana reflected that after such a long flight, her brother and new sister-in-law may not be up to a party, but that would be their problem! After denying everyone the excitement of a proper wedding it wouldn't grieve her to cause them to miss out on some sleep.
They probably didn't get much on their honeymoon anyway! she laughed to herself.
The first to arrive were the Bingleys and Bennets. Georgiana was struck by the manner in which Elizabeth's mother eyed the rooms of the great house, almost as a cat gloating over a bowl of cream. She greeted them warmly and was pleased to see the youngest of the party return her smile with equal warmth.
Charles performed the introductions. "Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mary and Kitty, this is Georgiana Darcy, Will's sister."
"It is such a great pleasure to meet you, my dear," gushed Mrs. Bennet. "Your darling brother was so devious in his plans....though I must say I wasn't entirely surprised, since he did voice his impatience to marry Lizzie when they were last at Longbourn! Oh, what a lovely place this is! And I understand dear Will also has a home in London?"
Mr. Bennet saved Georgiana from the necessity of forming a reply. "Yes, my dear, I'm sure none of us are really surprised at their decision following their last visit to Longbourn!"
Fortunately the arrival of more guests allowed their hostess to make an escape.
"I shall be so glad to be home!" Elizabeth sighed as she sank into the seat of Will's car. "Emmy, you will stay with us for a few days before you go home?" She looked behind her where the young lady sat in the back seat with William.
"If it's no inconvenience, I would be glad of the opportunity to get over the jet lag before heading back to Devonshire." she replied with a tired smile. The last two weeks in the sun and on the beach had been the best job she'd ever had!
The trip home was quiet. Even Will was looking forward to a hot shower and crawling into his own bed for a good long sleep.
When they finally pulled in the carpark behind Pemberley house, the car's occupants breathed a collective sigh and scrambled out of the vehicle. Will carried William into the house as Elizabeth and Emmy followed close behind.
The ladies nearly ran into the back of him as Will suddenly stopped in his tracks inside the front doors.
"What is it? Will?" Elizabeth tried to peer around him into the front hall. He stepped aside. "Oh, my," she said softly at the sight of a throng of people gathered to greet them.
"Congratulations!" the mob cried all at once. William clung to his father at the sound.
Will's eyes sought out Mrs. Reynolds. Unable to find her, he settled his gaze on his sister. "Georgiana......"
She returned his gaze impassively. "You brought it on yourself, Will. Don't think you can escape so easily."
Mrs. Bennet rushed forward to seize her daughter. "Lizzie, I understand perfectly, even though I am heartily disappointed not to be helping you plan a proper wedding. Still, here you are! And what a fine husband you have, too!" Her gaze roved over the fine architecture visible to her. "This place is magnificent, Lizzie!"
Elizabeth felt like banging her head against the wall. Or better yet, her mother's head. "Will, don't you think we'd better go in?"
He stepped forward into Georgiana's warm hug. She removed William from his arms so that he and his new wife could properly greet the family and friends assembled. Will led Elizabeth forward.
"Let us all go back into the dining hall, where I can perform a proper introduction of my wife to everybody." Will's smile beamed as he said 'wife'.
Laughter and chattering voices echoed in the hallway as the group shuffled after the Darcys' into the next room. Will stationed himself by the doorway with Elizabeth on his arm. This way he could greet each person as they entered. Elizabeth lost track of the number of people who passed by. Some she knew, of course; her own family, and Will's cousin Richard Fitzwilliam whom she had met during that spring visit to Hunsford.
"I'm quite envious of you, Will. You'll never know, Elizabeth, just how close I came to pursuing you that time in Kent. If I hadn't realized that Will was in love with you then..... Oh, well. I don't know what took you so long, but I am glad to see you finally together." Richard kissed the bride's cheek and clasped his cousin's hand.
Elizabeth noted that Georgiana took William around the room, showing him off, before taking him up to his room for some much needed sleep. Emmy escaped at the same time, ostensibly to look after her charge and allow Georgiana to return.
Fatigue set in rapidly, and both Will and Elizabeth sought a place to sit down without appearing rude. A slight signal to Georgiana brought her over.
"Did you plan all this, Georgiana?" Elizabeth asked.
Her sister-in-law nodded. "With considerable help from Mrs. Reynolds. I came home last weekend and she told me what you two were up to. I felt like such a twit. I had rung you at the London flat at least ten times and couldn't figure out why I could never get you!"
Elizabeth chuckled. "So, where's Brian?"
"Oh, he had to work this weekend. He's got finals coming up soon and has to get his last assignments completed by the end of the month. He really wanted to see you and Will, but...." she shrugged her shoulders.
"I understand. I'm sure we'll see him soon enough. When do you plan on bringing him home for a weekend?"
Georgiana cast a sideways glance at Will and was relieved to see his attention elsewhere. "When do think my dear brother will be ready for it?"
Elizabeth looked at her seriously. "Don't worry about Will. He's been set straight on that subject. I seem to recall mentioning something about people who live in glass houses......"
Georgiana laughed. "No offense, Elizabeth, but I was prepared to throw some rather pointed comments at him, myself, if he decided to make any cutting remarks about me and Brian." She paused. "We hoped Easter weekend might be okay. Did you have any plans for that weekend?
"The only plans that your brother and I have is to spend every minute we can at home! I start my new job on Monday. I believe we'll have our plates full getting adjusted to our new lives and schedules." Elizabeth sighed. "I think Will is going to find it a challenge just having William around all day, every day."
Georgiana smiled in sympathy. "Elizabeth, anything will be preferable to the way he was before you came back into his life." Her sister-in-law smiled gratefully.
Then Mrs. Bennet's voice was heard rising above the contented murmur of the crowd. "I'm sure Lizzie won't be staying long with that! After all, what does she need with a job when Will has so much money?"
Elizabeth closed her eyes in embarrassment. How can she do this to me? In front of all of Will's relatives, too! Mama, you have no idea how glad I am to live so far away from you. She felt a hand on her knee and opened her eyes to find Will looking at her in some concern. She smiled at him. "I'm okay. Just tired, I guess."
The rest of the afternoon passed relatively uneventfully, if you didn't count Mary's decision to entertain everyone with a turn at the piano. Finally the last of the guests had left. The Bennets, who were staying the night at Pemberley, were seen to by Georgiana, leaving Elizabeth and Will free to retire at last.
Mr. Bennet informed his daughter that they would be leaving for home shortly after breakfast the next morning. Although his wife expressed her disagreement with that decision in her usual manner, her husband was unmoved by her display.
"You are too cruel," Mrs. Bennet continued in an obvious attempt to gain sympathy. "I finally get to see my daughter comfortably settled and very well taken care of, and you insist on our departing before I can properly coach her on her new responsibilities!"
Elizabeth cringed in horror at her mother's words knowing that she wasn't simply referring to the running of the household. She looked across the table to see Will raising an amused eyebrow in her direction.
"I assure you, Mrs. Bennet," he said with an amazing measure of control, "that your daughter needs no coaching. She is eminently well suited to every task for the mistress of this house." He instantly regretted his choice of words.
"My dear Will," Mrs. Bennet began, smiling in satisfaction. "Of course you would think so. However I would be negligent in my duties as her mother if I didn't take her aside and advise her on matters where my experience has leant me more knowledge."
Elizabeth was feeling more embarrassed by the moment. She looked around the table at the faces of the others. Georgiana was innocently attending to the conversation, unaware of the real meaning behind Mrs. Bennet's words. Kitty was studying her eggs with intense interest, and Mary looked ready to expound upon the wisdom in her mother's reasoning. William was happily excavating his cereal.
"Fanny," her father sternly interrupted. "Lizzie's not a little girl anymore. She's lived on her own for more than three years. If she hasn't figured out what she needs to know by now, I don't think any instruction on your part would enlighten her further."
Elizabeth closed her eyes. She would be so glad when they were on their way back to Longbourn. Thankfully her mother refrained from any more mention of the subject, at least until they were at the door ready to leave. And for that reason Elizabeth was grateful for Georgiana electing to remain in the dining room with William.
"Lizzie," her mother said as she took her daughter aside in the hall. "Remember you can telephone me at any time if you have any questions. Marriage is not always easy under the best of circumstances, so in your case you must learn to be more patient. Keep in mind that your husband must always think he's the one in control, and take care to keep him satisfied so that he's not tempted to find some bit on the side. These wealthy men are used to having their own way with everything."
"Mother!" Elizabeth whispered hoarsely, casting a glance at Will to see if he'd heard her remarks.
"Oh don't be so naive, Lizzie!" Mrs. Bennet hugged Elizabeth and whispered in her ear. "And be sure to take care of yourself. Don't be overworking yourself like you did when you were expecting William."
Elizabeth gritted her teeth. "Mama, I am not pregnant!"
Her mother merely patted a hand on Elizabeth's cheek and smiled at her. Then she joined her husband outside at the car.
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Kitty and Mary piled into their seats and the car began to pull slowly away. Will and, probably to a greater extent, Elizabeth eagerly waved good-bye to her mother as they left.
Wrapping his arms around her waist and drawing her close, Will gave his wife a kiss. "It wasn't so bad, was it?" Elizabeth gave him a pained look. "And what would you like to do on your last day of unemployed freedom, my dear?"
Elizabeth sighed and returned his kiss. "Actually, I rather think I'd like to go back to bed." At Will's leering grin she amended "I could use some more sleep! I haven't recovered from jet lag yet."
"Oh," he said in mock disappointment. Then he smiled again. "You go back to bed then, my dear. I shall see to a few matters concerning this place," he rolled his eyes ceilingward "and wake you a little later. How's that?"
Elizabeth hugged him gratefully and skipped up the stairs to their room. Will watched her, a piece of his heart going with her. Sighing contentedly, he returned to the breakfast room for another plate of breakfast and some coffee to combat his own fatigue.
Georgiana and William were still at the table. Emmy had joined them and all three were delighted to see Will.
"Did you enjoy your time in Tahiti, Emmy?" Georgiana was saying.
Emmy's eyes lit up. "Oh, very much! William is such a joy, and we had so much fun on the beach!" She laughed. "Oh, and the wedding was so lovely and romantic," she continued with a sigh. "I'm going to remember it forever."
Will reflected that he was certainly going to be remembering their time in Tahiti for the rest of his life, as well: Elizabeth's soft skin, warm from the sun........ the taste of the salty ocean on her lips........ the way her body glided toward him through the water......... the heat of her passion when they---
Will startled out of his pleasant reverie to see Mrs. Reynolds standing at his elbow. Emmy and Georgiana were giggling. "I beg your pardon?" he said hurriedly.
Mrs. Reynolds smiled at him tenderly. She could well guess where his mind had been, especially considering the smile that had been on his face and the colour now creeping up his neck as he looked at her. "Mr. Braithwaite has one or two things he needs to discuss with you."
Will frowned. "On a Sunday?"
"You won't be in tomorrow." she pointed out patiently.
"Oh, very well." he grumbled rather good-naturedly. Will bid good morning to the ladies and his son, picked up his coffee cup and followed Mrs. Reynolds from the room.
Emmy giggled again. "I hardly saw them at all while we were in Tahiti. I think they emerged once in a while for a swim!"
Georgiana laughed. "Well, Emmy, I suppose the beach isn't on the room service menu!"
After lunch William was napping, Georgiana and Emmy were in the upstairs sitting room watching a video, and Will was watching his wife sleeping.
He had quietly crept into their room with something particular in mind, but found himself captivated by the sight of her while she lay peacefully dreaming in their big bed. Every once in a while Elizabeth would murmur something indistinctly, then sigh and snuggle herself down into the blankets. Each time Will would sigh as well, a feeling of complete contentment warming him. His gaze took in her lips, gently pouting as they always seemed to do when she slept, and her eyelids, hiding the beautiful eyes that melted his heart. He knew how soft those lids felt on his lips......
Will shook his head. He'd drifted off again. This is no good, he thought, rising from his chair. I need to get some sleep, too.
He crossed to the other side of the bed, shed his clothes and crawled under the blankets. Snuggling up to Elizabeth, he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her closer. She placed her own arm over his and intertwined their fingers.
They slept for the rest of the afternoon.
Elizabeth was the first to awaken. She admired her sleeping husband as he lay beside her. His curls were tossed haphazardly across his brow, and she smiled at how much he resembled his son while he slept. They both looked like angels, but William could sometimes be a little devil when awake, and Will........ Well, he certainly made her feel heavenly often enough!
Elizabeth leaned over to softly press her lips against his chest. His skin was warm, and as he stirred, she moved her lips along a trail to his ear. She whispered, and a smile spread across his face. Will's arms encircled her and Elizabeth made a half-hearted attempt to pull away.
"No, Elizabeth." Will's voice was husky from sleep. "I have a much better idea." He relaxed his hold on her, slipping out from the blankets, and pulled her from the bed.
Elizabeth protested. "It's too cold! I want to stay under the blankets!"
"I'll keep you warm." Will said with a sparkle in his eye. He picked her up and carried her across the room.
"Where are we going?" Elizabeth asked even though it was clear that they were headed for the bath.
"I thought a nice hot shower would be desirable, among other things." His eyes roved over her naked form as he set her on her feet on the mat next to the tub.
Elizabeth giggled and raised a challenging eyebrow. "Oh? And you expect these 'other things' to be sampled where? I had thought our previous location ideal for that."
"Oh, ye of little imagination!" Will teased as he turned on the water and adjusted the temperature.
When he judged it warm enough, Will stepped in and held out his hand to assist Elizabeth. She joined him and the door to the shower closed with a soft click.
Georgiana planned to return to Manchester soon after dinner that evening. She and Emmy had struck up a nice friendship during the weekend, and had spent a most enjoyable afternoon chatting about two of Georgiana's favourite topics: her brother and boyfriends.
"No," Emmy was saying as they sat in the music room before dinner. "I don't have a boyfriend at the moment. But I saw several candidates in Tahiti!"
"Oh, really!" Georgiana smiled from her seat at the small piano in the sitting room.. "Did you get any names?"
"One or two." Emmy admitted shyly. "There was even one young man from Derby. He was very attractive!"
Georgiana played a few bars of melodramatic chording. "Attractive is good. So when do you see him now that you're back in England?"
"Georgiana!" Emmy exclaimed. "You certainly move in a hurry!"
Georgiana laughed. "You obviously haven't been around my sister-in-law long enough. Elizabeth was instrumental in encouraging me to talk to Brian, and got things rolling with us."
Emmy felt her face grow flushed in embarrassment. "So that's what she was trying to do when she kept sending me to the bar for drinks. And then she went to the bar, herself, and was talking to him." She caught her friend's enquiring look and explained further. "Terry, that's his name, was sitting at the bar near the pool. The one day that Elizabeth and Will spent by the pool with William and me, she kept suggesting that I get to know some of the other young people while I had an afternoon free from William."
"You must have said something about this Terry fellow, or Elizabeth wouldn't have been so obvious about it."
Emmy looked away. "I guess I did. When Will was in the pool with William, Elizabeth and I talked about the things that we find attractive in men, and rated each of the men around the poolside! I may have been a little overzealous in my appreciation of Terry."
Again Georgiana laughed. "So did Elizabeth convince you to talk to him? That's what she did when she saw me admiring Brian."
"Well, she tried." Emmy wanted to shift her friend's attention away from herself. "So, how did you and Brian meet then?"
Georgiana sighed happily. "He was working in a small café that Elizabeth and I went to one evening. I had already been there several times, and Elizabeth could see that I wanted to get to know Brian. I was very shy, but she convinced me to just go and say hello, and see where it went from there."
"That's it?" Emmy looked at her in surprise. "That's all you did?"
"Yes. I said hello and we started talking, and before I knew it we had a date for the pictures! Brian is such a wonderful man. I can't thank Elizabeth enough for pushing me into introducing myself to him."
"From what you've told me of him, he does sound very nice." Emmy said. "What does your brother think of Brian? He must be thrilled that you've found such a great chap."
Georgiana's expression changed to one of concern. "I'm not sure. Will is very protective of me, and I think he's finding it difficult to reconcile those feelings with the realization that I'm not a little girl anymore. He's met Brian only a couple of times, and Will put on a rather impressive big brother routine."
"Oh, I'm familiar with that!" Emmy laughed. "I have two older brothers, and they delight in torturing any prospective boyfriends of mine!"
"At any rate," Georgiana continued, unwilling to dwell on thoughts of her own brother grilling Brian, "I told Elizabeth that I'd be bringing Brian here over Easter. Four days in the same house with him should reassure Will that I've chosen well. I hope."
"He can't be as bad as all that!" replied Emmy. "Your brother never had an unkind word to say about anyone the whole time we were away. I'm sure you're worrying for nothing."
Smiling, Georgiana said "That's Elizabeth's influence. Will is so blissfully happy now that he has Elizabeth and William. But you should see how he changes when Brian enters the room. Elizabeth said she had a talk with him, and I really hope she was able to persuade him to be more open-minded." A mischievous smile played across her mouth as she steered the conversation back toward Emmy's love life. "So, this young man from Derby.... Terry? Did you take Elizabeth's advice and get to know him?"
Emmy blushed. "Yes, I did. And before you say anything else, he won't be back home for another two weeks!"
"Oh, then you did get his number!" Georgiana teased. Emmy turned even more red. "The nights in Tahiti must be very romantic." Georgiana peered sideways at her friend, then laughed. "Okay, I'll stop."
Emmy gave a small laugh. "Romantic isn't the word for it, Georgiana."
"Emmy?" a small voice said.
The two young ladies looked to the doorway to see a sleepy William rubbing his eyes. Emmy went to the young boy, picked him up and carried him back to the sofa, placing him between herself and Georgiana.
"You had a nice long nap today, William. Are you hungry? It's nearly tea time." Emmy said.
At William's nod, Georgiana rang down to the kitchen. "William, I hope you like chocolate biscuits and milk. They were always my favourite, and Mrs. Reynolds still keeps a stock of those biscuits for when I come home on weekends."
The food arrived shortly, and the three made a picnic with a blanket on the floor of the music room. William was delighted, and giggled as he ate several of his aunt's favourite biscuits before she could get even one.
Elizabeth found her first week of work rather exhausting. Aside from the daily driving to and from Leeds, which fell to Will at his own insistence, she had her hands full with learning the new job, and chasing William around Pemberley's hallways in the evening. Apart from one incident, amusing in retrospect, in the lunch room on her first day, Elizabeth found the setting very comfortable.
After a brief tour of the offices, she had settled herself at her workspace in the pool of editors and immersed herself in her work. She barely noticed the time, and would have missed her morning break if not for a gentle enquiry from the woman at a neighbouring desk.
"It's time for tea break. You're welcome to join us. Elizabeth isn't it?"
Elizabeth smiled. "Yes, Elizabeth Bennet. I didn't even notice the time. Thanks, I could use a tea right now."
The other woman smiled in return and stuck out her hand. "Anna Robertson. Come on, I'll show you the way."
After shaking her hand, Elizabeth followed Anna out of the office and down the hall to a large open room. There were several tables and chairs, and a kitchen area with a refrigerator, microwave and other amenities.
"Most of us bring our own tea, coffee or whatever. The kettle is over there," Anna pointed to the counter next to the microwave, "just help yourself. Would you like tea? You can have some of mine if you didn't bring any."
"Thanks." Elizabeth said gratefully. "I never even thought about it."
They prepared their tea and took their cups to a table where three other ladies were sitting. One of them had a newspaper open and was speaking animatedly with her companions.
"I tell you it says it right here. I just can't find it. Oh, bother!"
"What's she on about now?" Anna asked of one of the ladies. "Oh, I beg your pardon. Elizabeth, this is Rebecca, Maureen and Sylvia."
Elizabeth nodded to each. Rebecca was tall and thin, in her late twenties. Maureen was closer to forty with a plump face and body to match. Sylvia, busily searching through her newspaper, looked up briefly to nod at the newcomer.
Rebecca answered Anna's question. "Oh, you remember when we went on those estate tours a couple of years ago?" Anna nodded. "And you must remember Sylvia swooning over that one chap we saw, or rather his portrait!"
"Oh, yes. That I remember!" Anna laughed and all three rolled their eyes.
"Well," Rebecca continued, "she says she read this morning that he got married."
Maureen smirked. "Yeah, can you believe it?"
"I mean, who would marry such a miserable old sod?" Rebecca made a face.
"Rebecca! He's hardly old!" Maureen objected.
"Maybe not to you!" Anna laughed.
"No, really! He couldn't be much more than thirty." Maureen continued her defense.
Rebecca sneered. "I see you didn't make any argument about his being miserable, though!"
Maureen shook her head. "Ladies, please. Show a little compassion for the fellow!"
Anna made a rude noise. "Puhlease, Maureen. Don't tell me you believed that claptrap about him being heartbroken and pining for his lost love! No man does that! My brother told me that he is just plain rude and can't be bothered with us common folk."
Elizabeth's head was swinging back and forth wildly with every comment.
"And your brother knows this because......?" Maureen was sceptical.
"His girlfriend's cousin's boyfriend's brother is a gardener on the estate." Anna smugly stated.
Rebecca snickered. "Can you say that three times fast?"
"Here it is!" Sylvia held the paper up triumphantly. "Right here.....it says..... 'Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy,'" The other three ladies giggled. "'of Pemberley Estate in Derbyshire, was joined in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Bennet two weeks ago. Sources say that Darcy whisked his bride off for a quick wedding in the tropical paradise of Tahiti. No prior announcement had been made, and the groom's surprised sister hosted a reception upon their return on Saturday.' So what do you think of that! A quicky wedding, out of the country, without even telling the family!"
"Does it say anything else? Is there a picture?" Rebecca leaned forward trying to read the article herself.
"No picture, but listen to this!" Sylvia grinned. "'Sources say that the new Mrs. Darcy isn't the only addition to the household upon this marriage. She brings her son, nearly three years old, who coincidentally bears a striking resemblance to her new husband.'" Sylvia raised her eyebrows at them.
Maureen and Rebecca gave each other a knowing glance. Anna's expression was one of horrified comprehension. Her gaze slid to the woman seated next to her. Elizabeth sat in silence, hardly daring to breathe.
"Is there any more about her?" Rebecca asked. "What was her name again?"
Sylvia looked at the paper once more. "Elizabeth Bennet. That's all it says."
"Hmmm." Maureen mused. "One of us commoners, no doubt. Just think, Sylvia! Might have been you if you'd gotten off your behind and chased after him. Poor lonely fellow."
"Doesn't appear to have been too lonely!" Sylvia laughed. "I wonder when the birth announcement will appear!"
Elizabeth fled the room. Anna watched her go.
"She certainly left in a hurry!" said Rebecca. "What's her problem?"
Anna turned to her companions. "She's Elizabeth Bennet."
Maureen's and Sylvia's mouths fell open. Rebecca stared in the direction Elizabeth had gone.
"Oh, my God." Maureen finally whispered. "Oh, the poor girl. The things we said! How will we ever make it up to her?"
"Well, how were we supposed to know?" Rebecca retorted. "She could have said something before we made idiots of ourselves!"
Anna left them arguing and went back to the office to find Elizabeth working furiously at her computer. She paused by the desk and waited for the other woman to acknowledge her presence. At last Elizabeth looked at her.
"Sorry about that. I know it's not much, but we really do feel awful about it."
Elizabeth heaved a sigh. "I guess I'd better get used to it. I'm just not accustomed to being in the spotlight."
"So how come you don't use your husband's name?" Anna looked at her, puzzled.
Elizabeth laughed ruefully. "I forgot! When I introduced myself to you I just automatically said Bennet. Darcy is still too new, I guess."
Anna noticed the photos on the desk. Pointing to them she asked "Is that your husband?" At Elizabeth's nod she gave a low whistle. "He is gorgeous! And the other is your son I suppose."
"Yes." Elizabeth picked up the photo and gently touched it. Then she quickly put it back down. "I'd better get back to my work."
Anna nodded and made her way to her own desk.
By the end of the week, Elizabeth viewed the episode in a more humourous light. The other ladies were more relaxed in her company as she joked and chatted with them over their tea breaks.
At home was a slightly different story, however. William was getting out of hand. The boy had certainly twigged to Will's permissiveness in a hurry. Time and time again, Elizabeth found herself reminding her husband that their son did not need to have everyone at his beck and call, nor did he require his father to purchase everything that caught his fancy.
"William really needs to get back on a regular schedule." Elizabeth said at the end of the week. Their son was in bed and she and Will were relaxing by the fire in the library. "With Emmy gone home now, you'll have to be the one to enforce a routine, Will. If you think it might be too much for you I'm sure we can arrange for a more permanent position for Emmy."
"Too much for me!" Will cried indignantly. "Elizabeth, he's not even three years old, yet. I think I can handle him."
"Of course, dear." Elizabeth covered a smile with her hand. "I'll just draft up a schedule for you, similar to the one I used when in Manchester, and we can go over it together, in case there's anything you'd like to change."
"That sounds fine, Elizabeth."
"After all," she continued. "We can't have him running amuck through the house. I'm sure your parents didn't allow that. What on earth would the staff think?"
Will chuckled. "I'm sure I'd be getting an earful from Mrs. Reynolds, along the lines of responsible parenting!"
"Exactly." Elizabeth wrapped her arms around her husband and nuzzled his ear. "I know you can do it, Will. You just have to get past this urge to spoil your son rotten!"
Will pulled her closer and placed his lips against her throat. "Perhaps I should spoil my wife instead?" he whispered as he tasted her skin.
"Mmmm." Elizabeth replied absently, her mind distracted by the sensations created by Will's attentions. She brought her hands up to his chest and began undoing the buttons of his shirt. When she finished with the last one, she pushed the fabric back and touched her palms to his bare skin. "Are you too warm? It's a bit hot next to the fire."
"We could move out into the snow and your fire would keep me warm, my dear." Will murmured against her lips. His hands moved up her back, inside of her blouse. He pulled her forward as he lay back on the sofa, bringing Elizabeth to rest on top of his chest. The feel of her body pressing against his sent a rush of blood to his head, and Will kissed her with an increasing passion, until Elizabeth pulled back slightly to say
"Didn't I hear you say something once about having a key to your own library?"
Will gave a throaty laugh. "There's no Charles or Jane here to interrupt us. And Georgiana is in Manchester." He moved his hands down to slip his fingers in the waistband of her skirt.
Elizabeth's eyes flashed an invitation as she ran her fingers through his curls, pulling his face closer. Her mouth sought out his, placing tender little kisses on his lips.
The door suddenly swung open and a gasp was heard. Elizabeth nearly tumbled to the floor as Will sat up hurriedly.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, sir. ma'am." said the flustered maid. Her eyes were drawn to Will's open shirt and exposed chest. She tried to look somewhere else, but when her eyes flicked to Elizabeth's disheveled appearance her embarrassment increased.
Will had no sympathy, and even less patience for her interruption. "Out!" he barked, and watched in satisfaction as the girl beat a hasty retreat.
"Will!" Elizabeth admonished. "Was it necessary to scare the poor girl like that? What will they be saying downstairs!?"
By way of reply Will pulled her to him once more and growled "The same thing they'll be saying every time one of them walks in on us unannounced. That the Master of the House is one very lucky man!"
"Will, maybe you'd better lock the door." Elizabeth suggested in a low voice.
Grinning, Will crossed the room and turned the bolt.
"Now remember, you promised to give the poor boy a chance." Elizabeth reminded her husband. "Georgiana is serious about him, and she would really like for you to approve."
Will frowned. "She's too young to be seriously involved with anyone."
Elizabeth laughed at him. "She's not much younger than I was when I met you, Will! Besides, you can't dictate her heart. She's fallen in love, and you're going to have to deal with it."
"What if I don't like him?" The pathetic look on his face made Elizabeth want to shake him.
"You'll like him." she said. "Don't you trust your sister's judgement?"
Will had no reply to that. He took Elizabeth's arm and they continued their walk along the garden path. William had run on ahead, but he was still visible as he stopped and bent down to examine something that caught his eye. An early spring had brought the daffodils peeking out of the turf, and the birds were actively building their nests in the cedars that bordered the garden wall.
"Pemberley is beautiful in the spring, Will!" That brought a smile to his face once again. "But I think summer will be my favourite time. Will you take me on picnics when the weather permits?" she asked, aiming a secret smile at him.
Will returned the smile. "I think I know one or two nice places for a picnic."
They were silent again, watching their son as he raced up and down the intersecting paths. Elizabeth suggested they continue on to take the walk by the stream. It was a long route, and she hoped it would take her husband's mind off of Georgiana and Brian.
But Will's mind was far from his sister and her boyfriend. As his eyes followed his son's figure weaving in and around the flower beds, he began to wonder about the joys he had missed in William's first years.
Elizabeth noted his silence, but she said nothing until they had reached the halfway point along the stream's edge.
"Elizabeth." he said simultaneously. They laughed, and Elizabeth asked him to continue.
Will stopped to face his wife, and took her hands in his own. Searching her eyes, he said tentatively "Elizabeth, I...... Tell me, do you want another child?"
Surprised at this question, she struggled for a reply. "Well....yes. Of course, Will."
Will's eyes lit up with her words. "When? I mean, could we try right away?" He looked at her apologetically. "I'm sorry if I sound impatient, or if I don't seem to be taking your feelings into consideration......"
"Will." Elizabeth placed her fingers on his lips. "I love you, and I would love to have another baby with you. I think I understand your impatience. You missed so much with William, and I can't tell you how sad that makes me feel. But another baby won't take that pain away."
Will turned his head from her. His voice was thick when he next allowed himself to speak. "How long do you want to wait, then?"
Elizabeth stepped in close to him, her lips brushing his ear as she whispered "I didn't say I wanted to wait, Will."
He pulled her to him, and kissed her soundly. Without another word, they continued their walk, delighting in their son's excited cries of discovery along the way.
By the time they made it back to the house, it was nearly time for tea. Mrs. Reynolds met them in the front hall upon their entrance.
"Miss Georgiana has rung to say that she and Mr. Osborne will be here in time for dinner, sir."
"Very well, thank you, Mrs. Reynolds." Will acknowledged. William darted past him, and he called out "William! No running in this house! Come back here, it's time for your tea."
William turned around and raced back to his father.
Will sighed while Elizabeth and Mrs. Reynolds exchanged amused glances. Taking his young son by the hand, Will led him to the drawing room, looking back over his shoulder to see if Elizabeth was following.
"Oh, I'll be along in a few minutes." she said. "I have a couple of things to discuss with Mrs. Reynolds first." Will nodded and followed his son into the drawing room.
Two hours later Georgiana's Rover pulled in the drive, and within minutes she and Brian entered the drawing room, laughing. Georgiana immediately went to her brother and planted a kiss on his cheek.
"You're looking good, Will," she said cheerfully. "Married life agrees with you then?"
Will smiled. "Cheeky girl!" He kissed her in return, then turned to face her friend. "Brian. Welcome to Pemberley."
"Thank you, Will." Brian shook the extended hand. "Marvelous place you have here."
Will drew himself up proudly at the praise of his home. "Georgiana will have to show you around while you're here. It's dreadfully easy to get lost until you know your way about."
"Oh, I know!" Brian replied, laughing. "I did get lost a couple of times the last time I was here!"
Will's face registered his surprise at the news that this young man had been to Pemberley without his knowledge. He cast an enquiring glance at his sister.
Georgiana smiled sweetly at him. "We came down one weekend while you were on your honeymoon. That's how I found out about your elopement."
Will opened his mouth to speak, but Elizabeth cut in. "Well, then, if you are already familiar with the inside of the house you'll have more time to enjoy the gardens this weekend, Brian!" She gently shook her head in her husband's direction. "The flowers are starting to emerge and everything is coming to life out there!"
"I just love this time of year, especially at Pemberley." Georgiana took Brian's hand and turned adoring eyes on him. "I'll show you all of my favourite spots."
Will felt a jolt as he realized with a shock that his own favourite spots were all associated with intimate memories of Elizabeth, and Georgiana's were likely to become equally intimately associated with her young man. He attempted to swallow his concern and attend to the continuing conversation. He really needed to get to know this man better, since it appeared that Georgiana was, indeed, very serious about him.
Elizabeth had directed them to sit, and Will found his voice to offer drinks. Brian accepted a scotch, while Georgiana preferred tea. When everyone was settled with their drinks, the two ladies turned their attention to William, who demanded of his aunt that a story be read. Will's eyes rested on Brian while he struggled to find something to say.
"So, Brian. Tell me what you plan to do for a living." Oh, that was heavyhanded! Will cringed as he saw Elizabeth's head swing around to stare at him in amazement. "I mean....um... what are you studying? You are at university too, I understand."
"Yes. I'm working in Architectural Design" Brian replied, unperturbed. He was secretly amused with Georgiana's brother and looked forward to an entertaining interrogation by Will. He had assured his girlfriend on the drive to Derbyshire that he would not take offense at anything that her brother might have to say, but rather, he was armed and ready for verbal combat. "I'll have my degree at the end of next month."
Will let out his breath in relief. Elizabeth had returned her attention to her son and sister-in-law. "That's good. Um....And then?"
Brian smiled. "I have a couple of offers. I've already done some freelance design for an international firm based in Lisbon. They may have a position for me later in the year."
Will had to admit to himself that he was impressed. Brian appeared to have a level head, and good prospects. He decided to try a different tack. "I seem to recall that your family lives in Chelmsford. That's near London, isn't it? Do you have a large family? There's only Georgiana and myself here."
"I have two older sisters, and a younger brother and sister." Brian replied. "My older sisters are married and have two children each."
Will's glance traveled over to where his own son was happily listening to Georgiana reading. His expression softened and he said absently "Children make all the difference in the world." He suddenly recollected himself and looked back at Brian. "A rather large family, that! Elizabeth is one of five children, as well."
"Really? I like a big family. I'd like to have four or five kids myself." Brian sipped his drink and stole a glance in Georgiana's direction.
Will didn't miss the look aimed at his sister. He wasn't yet reconciled to seeing his sister with her boyfriend, imagining her with a troop of children was out of the question! "Yes, well..... you'd want to get married first I imagine!" Will gave a half-hearted laugh.
Brian smiled knowingly as he said "But of course. It's the only proper way to do it." Will's head shot up and he narrowed his eyes in Brian's direction. "In my family." Brian concluded, trying not to laugh.
"Mmmm." Will was still wondering whether to feel offended or not, when dinner was announced.
Elizabeth guided the conversation in safer directions over the meal. Georgiana had already met the rest of Brian's family, and was as charmed by them as they were of her. Brian informed them that his mother was so enamored of his girlfriend that she had wasted no time in inviting Georgiana to their annual family picnic in May.
"All of my aunts, uncles and cousins join us for the day. Mum said even if Georgie and I split up, she'd be invited. I'd probably be an outcast!" Brian laughed and his eyes twinkled at Georgiana.
Elizabeth chuckled. "It sounds like fun. Where do you go for your picnic? You must be a very large group."
"There's a large park run by the National Trust just a few miles outside of our village." Brian explained. "It's probably the only place large enough to hold us all without having to drive very far."
"Are all your relations living locally then?" Will enquired.
"Most of them. One or two of my cousins are also out of town at university."
"Your family is very close, then?" Elizabeth asked him.
Brian nodded. "We look out for one another." He laughed. "My older sisters take a great delight in tormenting their younger brothers' girlfriends."
Will looked up sharply, frowning. Not my sister, they won't! He was about to voice his disapproval when Elizabeth, taking note of the thunder clouds forming on his face, quickly intervened.
"Isn't that just like an older sister!"
"Or brother." Brian added with a grin.
"Really, Brian!" Georgiana said quickly. "They haven't been unkind to me in the least. I find your sisters quite friendly and I think we'll become good friends."
Will was rapidly being left behind in this conversation. Each time he tried to look after his sister's interests he found himself the object of ridicule instead! Desperately trying to defend himself while attempting to regain an outward appearance of composure, he said "Your sister's actions are only to be expected. I'm sure they are only concerned for your happiness, Brian." What am I saying? It's my sister who will be on the receiving end!
Elizabeth looked at him sympathetically. "I think Brian was exaggerating a tad, my dear."
Will found safety in silence through the rest of the meal.
After dinner the men returned to the drawing room while the ladies took William upstairs to ready him for bed.
"I'll do that." Will offered, hoping for a brief escape.
Elizabeth merely smiled at him and shook her head. Once upstairs she took Georgiana aside and said "I think you should tell Brian to take a bit more care in how much he pushes your brother. Will tolerates a great deal of teasing from me, but I doubt he finds it as entertaining coming from your boyfriend!"
Georgiana looked at her sister-in-law worriedly. "I didn't think he'd go this far, Elizabeth. I'll have a word with him when we go back downstairs. I hope Will isn't too angry."
Elizabeth patted the younger woman's arm comfortingly. "I don't think he's angry, Georgiana. I think he's feeling more picked on. Brian hasn't exactly been subtle you know."
She pulled William's pyjama top over his head and ushered him off to the bath to clean his teeth and wash up. When she returned Elizabeth found Georgiana still in thought.
"Georgiana, don't worry so much." she said, tucking the blankets around her son.
"I just wonder what we're going to find when we go back downstairs." Georgiana said with sigh.
Elizabeth chuckled. She gave William a kiss and then led the way back to the drawing room.
. Will poured himself a brandy. "Would you like one?" he asked Brian.
"Thanks, I would."
Will handed a glass to the younger man and sat down in the chair opposite. He raised his glass. "To the ladies."
Brian smiled. "To the ladies!"
They drank, Will draining his own glass in one shot. He looked to Brian expectantly.
Brian was not accustomed to drinking hard liquor very often, and certainly not of the quality offered in this house. Still, he followed suit and drank it down.
Will rose and crossed to the bar. "Another?"
After a slight hesitation Brian nodded. With a satisfied smile, Will poured out two more. This time they toasted Georgiana. The third was to Elizabeth. Will sipped at the fourth glass as he watched Brian take a tentative sip of his own. The glassy look in the younger man's eyes gave him a curious sense of pleasure. Of course, his own head was feeling the effects as well.
"Will." Brian squinted slightly, trying to bring the other man into better focus. "Who are we toasting this time?"
Will's smile broadened. "Anyone you like."
"To ..." Brian frowned in thought. "To..... fatherhood!"
Will bolted upright in his seat. "Whose?" he demanded.
Brian looked taken aback. "Yours?" he slurred. Then he grinned. "Oh, you thought I meant---"
"Never mind what I thought." Will sharply retorted, sinking back against his chair.
Brian laughed, raised his glass and winked at Will. Then he emptied the glass. Will's smile returned as he refilled it. Brian never noticed that his companion hadn't finished his own drink.
"You know," Brian said, staring into the amber liquid, "this is really good stuff." He looked at Will, or rather in Will's general direction. "I like you, Will. You're a good sport."
"A good sport?"
"Yeah, I mean, here I am....poking fun at you half the night, and you don't even get mad at me! Georgiana was right. You are truly an understanding brother. She said you'd come around." Brian raised his glass again. "To you, Will!" and he polished off another one.
Will stared dumbfounded as Brian held out his empty glass. Without thinking, he poured out another, then topped up his own drink.
"Ah, Georgiana!" Brian went on. "She's so lovely, so perfect! Don't you agree? Well of course you do! You are her brother after all!" He leaned forward to whisper suggestively "Well, I'm not her brother, and I can tell you she is the loveliest piece of art.....ohhh, such soft skin! And warm, too. And the way she kisses!" He moaned softly. "What a man wouldn't give to be kissed like that! She has a passion that would shame--"
"Enough!" Will cried, then continued in a barely controlled tone "I get the idea." He gulped down his brandy and gasped as it burned a trail down his throat.
"Oh, yes!" Brian cried as he raised his glass once more. "To passionate women! And I'm sure you know what I mean Will!" Again he emptied his glass. "That Elizabeth of yours! Ooh, she must be something! I can tell just by that fiery look in her eyes." He looked into his glass and then at Will. "Another, Will?" he asked and tilted the bottle in his companion's direction. Will's eyes widened, but Brian refilled his glass anyway and continued talking. "Speaking of the ladies, where are they? Shouldn't they be back by now?" He grinned crookedly and leaned toward Will, nearly ending up face first on the carpet. "Perhaps we'll make it an early night, what?" His exaggerated wink made Will grab for own brandy.
But before he could drink any, his head turned to the door as his wife and sister suddenly returned. The ladies had smiles on their faces, but those soon faded when Brian rose drunkenly to his feet and swayed over to Georgiana. Elizabeth gave her husband a deadly glare.
"Will! How could you?!"
Will's mouth fell open, but he said nothing. His own condition was hardly to be commended. The ladies had been gone barely more than a half hour and they had consumed, what? Well, Brian had put back seven glasses of the best brandy from the cellar! My God, what have I done? Georgiana will never speak to me again!
"Let me help you get him upstairs, Georgie." Will offered.
His sister stared at him icily. "Thanks Will, but I think you've done enough!"
Elizabeth called for one of the footmen to assist Georgiana with Brian, then returned to the drawing room. Will was sitting in a chair, head in his hands.
"Proud of yourself?"
Will looked up. "I'm sorry. It got a little out of hand."
"Just what were you doing?" Elizabeth asked angrily.
"I just wanted to loosen him up a bit.....take him off his guard." Will shook his head. "I had no idea he would take to the stuff so quickly! I thought a couple of drinks and he would quit."
"And did it work?"
"And did he tell you what you wanted to hear?" Elizabeth asked, exasperated.
Will dropped his face into his hands again. "More than I wanted to....much more."
Elizabeth sighed and sat down beside him. "What did you expect? You are pathetic, Will. Why can't you just accept Georgiana's choice? Why do you always have to be the judge?"
He said nothing, but sadly looked at his wife and brought a hand up to touch her cheek.
She swatted the hand away. "You're almost as bad as Brian is. Go to bed, Will. I'll see what I can salvage with Georgiana."
Georgiana! Will groaned. His sister had never looked at him with such coldness before. "Let me talk to her."
"Are you mad?" Elizabeth looked at his desperate expression and reconsidered. Maybe his sister's justified wrath would put him in his place once and for all. "Fine. You go and see if she'll speak to you. But if I were you, I'd wait a little while longer. At least until she has Brian settled into bed." She stood up and made for the door, pausing before going through. "I'll be in my room." Then she left him alone with his conscience.
"I don't want to talk to him! What was he playing at, Elizabeth?" Georgiana paced the floor of her room.
"If you could see the look on his face, Georgiana! He's absolutely mortified and is afraid you'll never speak to him again." Elizabeth laughed.
"It's not funny!"
"Oh, but it is!" Elizabeth argued. "Georgiana, he's only drunk. Nobody got hurt. Please put it into perspective, here. This is the perfect opportunity for you to make it clear to your brother that your life is your own, and he has no business interfering. If you make a mistake, it is yours to make." She reached out to touch the younger woman's arm and stop her pacing. "He cares about you so much, but you have to define the limits for him or he'll never let go."
Georgiana thought about Elizabeth's words. She had a good point. Will would always be sticking his nose in unless she laid down the law. She also had to concede that she had overreacted a bit as far as this evening was concerned. So Will got Brian drunk, so what? Wouldn't be the first time, and definitely not the last. Besides, Brian was just as much to blame, but I don't need to tell Will that! She looked at Elizabeth and giggled. "So why exactly did Will give him so much to drink?"
Elizabeth smiled. "I believe he wanted to find out just what Brian's feelings are for you. He got a little more than he bargained for, I think."
Georgiana turned beet red. She could well imagine what Brian might have said, having seen him under the influence a few times. She'd had a difficult enough time trying to get him into bed without being pulled in, too. "Is Will....did he drink as much as Brian?"
"Just about, I think." Elizabeth's smile widened. "Enough to make him very susceptible to a well placed reprimand from you."
Georgiana drew in a deep breath and let it out again. "Honestly, Elizabeth. Do they ever grow up?"
Elizabeth shook her head in amusement. "I don't really think we'd want them too, either."
Still laughing, Georgiana went downstairs to seek out her brother and give him a piece of her mind. It went a lot easier than she expected.
Will was sitting in a chair, staring at nothing in particular when his sister entered the room. He sprang up from his seat, and immediately began reciting a litany of apologies.
"I'm not interested in hearing how sorry you are, Will." Georgiana said impatiently. "I expect you to say that you won't do anything so completely asinine again!"
Her brother merely looked at her, speechless.
"What is the problem, Will? Don't you trust Brian? Or is it that you don't trust me?" Georgiana watched him struggle for something to say, then continued. "I know you think you're looking after me, but haven't you figured out that I don't need you to do that anymore? You relinquished that role a long time ago, when you abandoned me for the comfort of your own self pity."
"Georgie, I never abandoned you." Will objected. "Wasn't I always available when you needed me?"
"No, you weren't." She felt a twinge of guilt at the pain she saw in his eyes. "I needed more than someone to pick up the pieces when I made a mistake. I needed guidance, and support, and .......and..... a friend." Georgiana looked at him sorrowfully. "You were all those things for me until you withdrew into a self imposed cocoon for three years."
Will's eyes focused on his feet as he twisted his wedding ring around his finger. "You know why I did that, Georgie."
His sister's voice softened. "Yes. Yes, I do. And seeing what that exile did to you, I determined that it would never happen to me. I want to experience life. I want to enjoy it, live it, and not be afraid to get hurt. Getting hurt is all part of the process." She stepped closer to her brother and met his eyes. "I love Brian, and he loves me. We're enjoying ourselves. Isn't that what you want for me? Or would you rather I lock myself away at Pemberley like you did?"
"You're right." Will said quietly. "For those three long, black years it was you who was my lifeline. I should have been there for you, helping you. Instead I leaned on you and built my own fortress against the rest of the world." He looked into her eyes, saw the tears in hers as well. "I do trust you, more than you think. I'll give you the room you need. Just don't be afraid to lean on me, Georgiana. I'll always be here for you when you need me. I hope you know that Elizabeth will be, too."
"I never doubted it, Will." she whispered. "I never doubted you."
"Brian, can I offer you one of these?" Will held a glass aloft, his eyebrows raised in Brian's direction.
"Oh, yes please." Brian laid his head against the back of the chair and closed his eyes. A few moments later he felt a hand on his arm and opened them again. Will held a fizzing glass out to him. "Thanks, Will."
"Do you want to make a toast?" Will grinned.
"Georgiana wasn't very sympathetic, was she?"
Brian drank down the contents of his glass and grimaced. "That's an understatement. How about Elizabeth?"
Will returned the glasses to the sideboard and smiled grimly. "I've endured worse."
Brian rubbed his temples, vainly hoping to relieve the pounding in his head. "I don't know about you, Will, but I've had enough games. What else do you want to know about me?"
Will chuckled. "I think I know all I need to, Brian. My sister gave me enough of an earful to teach me to mind my own business." He sat down at the table and reached for a piece of toast. "You'd best eat something. It'll help settle your stomach."
Brian made a face. "I doubt it." He looked at the clock on the wall behind him. "Did Elizabeth say when they'd be back?"
Will laughed. "Of course not! We're supposed to be suffering, Brian! I can see their methods are quite successful on you."
Brian had to smile at that. "So, what are we supposed to do in the meantime?"
Will raised an eyebrow at him. "Would you like to see the extent of Pemberley's grounds? I think the fresh air would do us both some good."
Brian agreed, and after they finished their breakfast, the two men left the house. Will led the way through the upper garden until they reached the back wall which separated the cultivated gardens from the carefully maintained wilderness of the field leading to the lake. Brian gazed about him with awe, looking back at the expanse of the house as the massive stone structure rose into the sky.
"I can't imagine growing up in such a place!" Brian said to Will. "And it was just the two of you?"
Will smiled. "And our parents, of course. At least, until they passed on."
"Oh, yes." Brian was silent for a moment. Then he looked at his companion. "Will, I hope you believe me when I say I would never hurt Georgiana. She's the most wonderful woman I've met. I love her dearly."
Will wasn't quite sure how to reply. Open expressions of emotion were not his strong suit. "I'm ..... grateful for your assurance, Brian. I know my sister feels the same for you. I won't pretend that it doesn't scare me. My little sister has grown up without my noticing."
Brian looked at Will, noting the sadness that touched his expression. "Georgie told me a little about what you went through, Will. I'm really sorry about the way I teased you last night." To his surprise, Will laughed. "What did I say?"
"You apologizing to me for last night! Georgiana was ready to strangle me, and Elizabeth was queuing up behind her!"
Brian grinned. "What a right couple of prats we were! I actually believed I could outlast you. Was I terribly insulting?"
"No, not insulting. Revealing, I would say."
Brian turned a shade more red. He recalled what Georgiana had told him of his indiscreet remarks at other times when he had been drinking.
Noting the younger man's reaction to his words, Will was secretly delighted at the tables being turned. "Perhaps we should do it again sometime. Without the ladies, of course!"
Brian relaxed a little. "Agreed! And preferably the ladies could be absent the next morning as well!"
Still laughing, the two men continued their stroll along the gravel walk around the lake.
When the ladies returned later that day they found their men in the games room at the billiards table. A stack of notes was piled on one side of the table.
Neither Will nor Brian noticed their entrance. Will was lining up a shot at the near end of the table, his back to the door. Brian's eyes were fixed on the cue ball. Will let the cue slide, striking the ball and sending it into another one with a sharp 'smack'. The second ball sailed down the length of the table, bounced off the end, bounced again off the side and stopped just short of the right side pocket.
"Ha!" Brian cried. "That's another ten to me!"
Will made a face as he pulled a ten pound note from his pocket and added it to the pile at the side. "I'll just consider it an investment in your education."
Brian grinned. "Whose education?"
Will shot him a look, then smiled. "Next time, I'll serve you brandy while we play, not the night before."
"Are we interrupting?" Elizabeth approached her husband and wrapped her arms around him from behind.
"No, not at all." Will replied. "Brian's had enough."
Brian winked at Georgiana. "Yes. I've taken enough of your brother's money. I'm willing to quit now!"
"Well, I'm glad to see you two behaved yourselves in our absence." Elizabeth gave Will a kiss on his shoulder and stepped away from him.
"Did you have a nice day, my dear?" Will asked.
Elizabeth stole a glance at Georgiana. "Your sister and I agreed that we should have left William with you. He was a bit of a terror today."
"Then I'm glad he was with you!" Will laughed. "He tries my patience enough through the week."
"That's because you let him run rampant through the place!" Elizabeth scolded. "You haven't made any effort to follow the routine I drew up for you."
Will looked a bit sheepish. "It's just easier to do it the other way."
"Sure it is! You do as you please, and let your son do that, too. How on earth is he going to learn any responsibility at all if you continue to spoil him this way?"
Will frowned. "Elizabeth, could we talk about this later?"
Elizabeth smiled cheerfully. "Of course, Will. Your son is waiting for you upstairs. He says it's time for a tickle fight."
Will grinned and excused himself from their company. Elizabeth chuckled.
"You'll have to excuse me, too. I have some business with the cook for tomorrow's dinner." she said with a smile, and left Georgiana and Brian alone.
Brian took a few steps toward her. "Are you still angry with me?" he asked tentatively.
Georgiana bit her bottom lip and met his gaze. "I'm sorry I was so severe this morning. Did you have any trouble with my brother while we were out?"
Brian took her hand and drew her close. "Will and I got on fine. I think he might even like me!" He kissed her forehead. "You worry too much." His lips caressed her eyelids. "I love you, Georgiana." His lips found hers, and there was silence for a few moments.
"Oh, Brian," Georgiana finally sighed. She laid her head against his chest as they wrapped their arms around each other. "I was thinking about you all day."
Brian hugged her tightly. "And everywhere I looked, I could see you in this big place!"
"Elizabeth kept scolding me, telling me not to be so soft on you." Georgiana giggled. "I feel sorry for Will. She doesn't give him an inch!"
Brian shook his head. "I doubt that's true. He doesn't strike me as one to let her get the upper hand. And they seem quite happy. I'm sure all of that fire in her personality keeps your brother very happy indeed."
Georgiana chuckled and snuggled closer into Brian's warmth. "Do you remember when he showed up at my flat that night, so upset?" Brian nodded. "That was the first time in years that I'd seen any strong emotion in him. And now he's so full of life!"
"So, now that your brother no longer needs you to look after him," Brian murmured into her hair, "how about looking after me, instead?" He placed a soft kiss on her neck, then on her lips.
Georgiana looked into his deep blue eyes. "I'd like that. Would you like to take a walk with me? I'd like to show you some of my favourite places at Pemberley."
Brian touched his forehead to hers and gazed into her eyes. "I took a walk with your brother earlier today, but I'd love to see Pemberley through your eyes." he whispered.
Then he took her hand and Georgiana led him from the room.
"No, no, no Will! How many times do I have to tell you? He's only three years old. He doesn't need his own computer. He'll be perfectly happy with toys!" Elizabeth glared at her husband in exasperation.
"But Elizabeth," Will argued. "He's continually playing about with my computer. And yours, as well! I can't tell you how many documents I've lost as a result."
"That's because you don't watch him closely enough!" Elizabeth felt that if she had to repeat that one more time she'd go mad. "Will, you have no problem asserting yourself in your business, with the staff and with me! Why do you let your son walk all over you?" She knew she'd hit a nerve by the way his eyes burned into hers.
"I don't." Will grumbled, although he knew it wasn't the truth. Not a day went by that he wasn't reminded of how much he needed to make up for in his young son's life. Unfortunately he hadn't the slightest idea how to go about it, and so far all he had managed to do was to spoil the boy, and incur the wrath of his wife. Now Will was even beginning to wonder if it was wise to bring another child into the picture. I can't even cope with one child. What sort of chaos would there be with two? He looked away from Elizabeth as if she could read his thoughts. "I'll try harder."
"You'll do more than try harder, Will." Elizabeth fumed. "I'll go over William's routine once more. If you don't stick to it I'll call Emmy and have her stationed here faster than you say 'I'm sorry'!"
Will looked up sharply at that. "There's no need to reiterate the schedule, my dear. I know it by heart."
Elizabeth felt something akin to sympathy for his predicament, but it had no bearing on the matter. William needed a stable, solid routine, and Will wasn't providing it. It was that simple. Their son had been thrown suddenly into a new environment, with new people, while his mother was no longer available to him during the day. As if that wasn't enough, his father's unwillingness to lay down the law was resulting in a very unruly child causing havoc for everyone in the house. Elizabeth recalled Mrs. Reynolds words to her just that morning.
"Mrs. Darcy, if something isn't done soon, young Master William will be the death of me!" the housekeeper said in frustration.
"Why, whatever happened Mrs. Reynolds?" Elizabeth asked in concern.
"Mr. Darcy and his son were out walking yesterday afternoon. You know how rainy it has been for the past week. Master William escaped from his father's attentive eye, and slipped in a side door...... with the dogs."
Elizabeth's eyes widened in disbelief. "Just how many dogs, and how far did they get before being apprehended?"
Mrs. Reynolds narrowed her gaze. "Four dogs. Sixteen muddy paws and one pair of very muddy Wellingtons. They went straight through the east drawing room doors, crossed the carpet and proceeded down the hallway toward the stairs. Mr. Braithwaite spotted them just before the boy started up, but the dogs were all over the floors! It took four of the footmen to round up the beasts and take them back to the kennels."
"And where was my husband all this time?"
"He joined us as the dogs were being led out." Seeing the expression on the young woman's face, Mrs. Reynolds softened her tone. "He tries, but the lad is just so quick!"
Elizabeth pursed her lips. "Mr. Darcy instructed you to see that no evidence remained by the time I returned home?" The housekeeper nodded slightly. "Have no fear, Mrs. Reynolds. I shall rectify this situation today."
Judging by the determined expression on Will's face at this moment, the situation would be well in hand before the end of the day. Elizabeth smiled in satisfaction. "Then I may consider this matter closed for the time being?"
"Very much closed, Elizabeth." Will let a small smile creep across his face. "Now, as for William's birthday....." He rose from his chair and crossed the floor to his wife's side. "Charles rang today to tell us that they will be coming for a week."
"Lovely! I can't wait to see how much Robert has grown!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "My father informed me that he and Mama will come for the weekend only. Mary has a recital, and Kitty would rather stay at home, alone for a change. Actually I can't blame her for wanting a weekend free from Mama."
Will wrapped his arms around Elizabeth's waist and drew her against his body. "Georgiana and Brian will arrive Thursday night. We're going to have a full house by next weekend."
Elizabeth let out a long breath. "I'll go over the arrangements with Mrs. Reynolds tomorrow." She looked closely at her husband. "No computer!" she stated firmly.
Will appeared disappointed, but recovered quickly. "Any other suggestions, then?"
"We'll go 'round the shops tomorrow. Has he been asking for anything in particular?"
Will shook his head. "Not of me. He has been watching an awful lot of Fireman Sam lately. And he's been driving those toy fire engines along the sofa cushions as if they were on an emergency run!" His eyes lit up as an idea occurred to him. "We could get him one of those battery-powered Rovers to drive around the grounds!"
Elizabeth frowned fiercely. "Think smaller!" she demanded. "You don't have to be so extravagant. William will never know the difference. He's accustomed to the shoestring we used to live on, with gifts that I could afford. Smaller, Will, smaller."
Deflated, Will gave in. "All right. I'll just wait until tomorrow, then, to see what you suggest."
He pulled her tightly against him, his hands moving slowly up her back, pressing her softness into his chest. He lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her lovingly. Elizabeth's own arms encircled his waist as she tenderly responded. Will's lips were warm, and when he kissed her like this, Elizabeth felt as though she were snuggled into a safe and secure place in his heart. His kisses were filled with emotion and tenderness, along with carefully restrained desire. With a contented sigh, Elizabeth ended the kiss and placed her head against his shoulder.
"Only three months married, sir, and is there a place in this house where you haven't tried to seduce me?" she softly teased.
Will laughed quietly. "Me? I thought it was you doing the seducing, my dear. You take advantage of the fact that I can hardly think straight whenever you are in the same room."
"Oh, really? I take advantage, do I?" Elizabeth said in mock indignation. Placing her hands on his chest, she pushed herself away and made a face at him. "In future I shall endeavor to remember not to seduce you at any hour of the day!" She spun on her heel and made to step away from him.
Will snatched her hand up and pulled her back into his embrace. "You will remember no such thing, Elizabeth." he rumbled, and kissed her again, more aggressively this time. Elizabeth felt her body relax in the strength of his grip, leaning into him and returning his kisses with equal fervor.
Elizabeth heard her heart pounding in her ears; thump, thump, thump. But she gradually became aware that the sound was coming from somewhere else. As Will's kisses moved from her mouth to her throat, she could distinguish the sound of her heart from the sound of knocking on the drawing room door.
"Will." she whispered. "Will!" He looked at her enquiringly. "Someone's at the door."
He cursed softly and walked over to open the door. "What is it?" he almost barked at the unfortunate person on the other side.
Mrs. Reynolds drew herself up stiffly. "Master William is asking for his mother, sir." Her gaze traveled beyond him to where Elizabeth stood, looking a bit flustered. She hoped she hadn't interrupted an argument between them, as they both appeared somewhat uncomfortable with her intrusion. "I'm sure it's nothing important, if this is an inconvenient time. He merely wants a little cuddling, is all."
Don't we all..... Will mused. "I'll go, Elizabeth. You relax and put your feet up."
"No, no. Let's both go up." she smiled. "I spend precious little time with William these days. Besides, I think I'd like to turn in early tonight."
Will's eyes registered his delight with her plan. He nodded, and together they went upstairs to tend to their son.