A drizzly day in August found Will and Elizabeth on the road toward London. William was playing with his toy cars in the back seat of the car as they sped down the motorway. Elizabeth was quiet. The plan had been to stop at Netherfield on the way and announce to her family that she was expecting another baby. They had told Georgiana the previous night and, as Will had predicted, she was ecstatic about it. Will was then impatient to let his in-laws know, and anyone else he could think of to tell. It was always impossible to keep anything from Mrs. Reynolds, so the housekeeper wasn't entirely surprised when Will informed her. She was as delighted as Will's sister, saying it had been far too long since there had been a baby in the house.
Elizabeth knew that her father would be happy for them. She knew that Charles and Jane would be thrilled, too. As usual, it was her mother's reaction that she dreaded. This was why she had wanted to keep it quiet for a little while, although she knew it couldn't be forever.
She glanced into the back at their son as he drove his tiny cars along the seat. Her life in Manchester had been so peaceful without constant exposure to her mother. Her life at Pemberley was more of the same. How she wished she could have simply written to her family or used the telephone to deliver this news. But the happy reactions of the rest of her relatives should outweigh anything her mother could say. Elizabeth sighed.
Will stole a glance at his wife as he drove. He shook his head at her reluctance to this visit. He was anything but apprehensive about announcing her pregnancy to her parents. Quite frankly, he couldn't wait to see his mother-in-law's face and was looking forward to protecting Elizabeth from her unwanted attentions. He grinned in anticipation of giving Mrs. Bennet a proper set-down.
At last the turnoff for Meryton appeared and in another ten minutes they were on the drive approaching Netherfield.
The Darcys were the last to arrive at the Bingley home. When Elizabeth had told Jane that they would be coming, her sister had planned a family dinner to save them the trouble of calling at two houses. Elizabeth was warmly greeted by her two younger sisters who hadn't seen her for months. Mary gave Will a friendly kiss on the cheek although Kitty was still a little intimidated by her brother-in-law.
"You look positively glowing, Lizzie!" Jane exclaimed as she gave her sister a hug. "It must be all that fresh air in the country!"
"Must be." Elizabeth laughed.
William raced past his mother as Charles entered the room. He threw himself into his uncle's arms and Charles lifted him high in the air. William let out a shrieking laugh and continued to giggle as Charles tossed him into the air.
"Charles!" Elizabeth cried in alarm. "Don't do that!"
Charles laughed at her. "I won't drop him, Lizzie."
"You most certainly won't." Will added. "I'll kill you if you do."
"Worry warts." Charles scoffed as he tossed his nephew in the air again.
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet joined them as Charles was placing William on his feet once more. The little boy scampered over to his grandfather.
"And how is my little lad?" Mr. Bennet said as he picked up the boy. "Been behaving yourself, William?"
"What a question!" his wife admonished. "He's such an angel, he never does anything wrong."
Will rolled his eyes to the ceiling, recalling the mess of legal documents he'd had his solicitors redraft.
"Hello Papa, Mama." Elizabeth came forward to give each of them a kiss.
"Lizzie, you look well." her father said, smiling at her.
"My dear," said her mother, giving her a hug. "Are you taking proper care of your husband?"
Charles said aside to Will in a low voice "I notice she doesn't ask if you are taking proper care of Lizzie."
Will glared at him. "Yes, she is indeed." he said to his mother-in-law.
"Oh, I am glad to hear it! Lizzie has always been-"
"Yes," Will interrupted impatiently. "She's always been one to think of others first. Charles, I believe you said that you were planning a large family get together for later this month? Any particular date?"
Charles looked confused for a moment, then realized that his friend was trying to deflect their mother-in-law from Elizabeth. "Uh, yes. We were thinking of the last weekend." He and Jane had arranged the purchase of their new home and the closing date was in the middle of September. He remembered the scene that had unfolded upon informing Jane's parents of their planned move and closed his eyes as he shuddered.
"Why, of course we must," Mrs. Bennet was wailing. "For who knows when I may see my darlings again. You are so cruel to be moving so far from us. First Lizzie takes our dear little William away and now you and Jane are going, too!"
Will turned a satisfied smile on his friend, happy to have spared his wife any further abuse for the moment. Mr. Bennet chuckled at his daughters' husbands.
"And my dearest Lydia," Mrs. Bennet continued, "who promised faithfully to write to me... I haven't heard a word from her!"
The smile disappeared from Will's face.
"She didn't write you?" Elizabeth asked faintly.
Her mother turned a pained look on her. "That's what I said, Lizzie. Is there something wrong with your hearing?" Elizabeth shook her head absent-mindedly while her mother went on. "Anyway, where does that leave me? Kitty will be off to university next month, and Mary is away half the time at recitals. What am I to do? All my girls are flitting off."
"I thought that was the idea, Mama." said Kitty tiredly. Elizabeth wondered how many times the poor girl had heard this complaint over the last few weeks. "Jane and Lizzie are married, Mary and I are taking care of ourselves, and Lydia is Lord knows where, but be sure she's having a good time wherever it is!"
"Well, there is that consolation of course. George is taking very good care of her, I'm sure. He is such a fine young man."
It took all of Will's self control not to laugh bitterly at that remark. He caught Elizabeth's eye and reassured her with his gaze. If Lydia had not bothered to write her mother, perhaps there was some hope after all that George Wickham would keep his distance from them. Will casually moved across the room to his wife and took her hand in his. He refused to let the mention of that man's name spoil his current happiness, happiness based in the knowledge that Elizabeth loved him and that she was now carrying his child, their second child.
They survived the rest of the afternoon without Mrs. Bennet coming to any harm, and dinner was remarkably calm but for one minor altercation with William's soup bowl and Mr. Bennet's elbow. It seemed that the youngster had accidentally moved his bowl too close to his grandfather's place setting, and when the older man wasn't paying very close attention, he had rested his arm in the middle of the cream of broccoli. Will and Elizabeth closed their eyes in resignation, having participated in similar scenes too many times to count. William giggled as he watched his grandfather pull a dripping sleeve from the remains of the soup. Kitty seemed to find it rather amusing as well, much to her father's chagrin.
Will and Elizabeth had agreed to wait until after dinner to make their announcement. That way they would be able to escape shortly afterward and not have to listen to much of her mother's annoying prattle.
They took their coffee in the other room and Will took advantage of a lull in conversation to gain everyone's attention.
"I'm sure you will all be pleased to know that William is going to have a little brother or sister." He smiled at the faces around the room. "Elizabeth is expecting a baby in February."
There was a chorus of congratulations all at once, and Jane grabbed her sister's hand.
"Oh, Lizzie, I know how much you wanted this! I'm so happy for you both."
"Lizzie, dear!" squealed Mrs. Bennet. "How wonderful!" She pulled her daughter aside and whispered, "I knew you could do it. Now you have nothing to worry about. Your future is secure."
"I beg your pardon?" Elizabeth stared at her mother.
Will saw his wife cornered and quickly came to her side in time to hear Mrs. Bennet's reply.
"Once you've supplied him with two children, even if he grows tired of you and finds some bit on the side, you will always be well provided for."
Elizabeth's face flushed bright red, but it was her husband who spoke.
"Mrs. Bennet! I have had quite enough of your insidious advice to my wife. She needs no help from you in our marriage, and quite frankly I'd be appalled if she followed any of it! If it's financial reassurance you are concerned with, then I shall put those fears to rest. You need never worry for your daughter on that score. Elizabeth will always be 'well provided for' as you put it, for I would sooner die than see her suffer hardships the like of which she experienced on her own in Manchester. Furthermore, there is no force on earth that could tempt me away from Elizabeth. Your daughter's strength of character, her fiery temper and opinions are what I love most about her. Don't ever doubt the depth of my feelings, woman! This had better be the end of your 'advice' for if I hear any more of it, that will be the last time you see us! I refuse to subject my wife to such abuse, and my children will not be exposed to it either!"
The room was silent.
"What on earth possessed you to say those things to my mother?" Elizabeth demanded when they were in the car.
Will looked at her in surprise. "I'm tired of her bloody interference. She upsets you every time and I won't have it."
"She's my mother! She means well, she just doesn't know how to be tactful about it."
"I'll say." Will muttered.
"And another thing," Elizabeth went on as her husband turned his attention to the road. "You have some nerve telling her that we won't see her again if she doesn't stop with her suggestions."
"Don't 'Elizabeth' me! I can't believe you lit into my mother like that. She loves William. How dare you threaten her with never seeing him again!"
Good God, spare me the anger of a woman under the influence of hormones! "It was an empty threat, Elizabeth. Please calm down."
"Oh, don't be so bloody patronizing, Will!" she huffed and turned her face to look out the window.
Will let his breath out slowly and quietly. Charles had warned him about Elizabeth's rapidly fluctuating mood changes, since he'd witnessed them during her first pregnancy. Even his father-in-law had pulled him aside to offer advice on keeping his head intact through the next few months. Will had laughed at them both. Now he was beginning to wonder what he'd let himself in for. A week in London with a toddler and a homicidal wife! Then he chuckled at the image of Elizabeth chasing him around the flat trying to bludgeon him with a rolled up newspaper.
"What's so funny?"
Will stifled his laugh and shot a glance to the left. Elizabeth did not look willing to listen yet. "Lizzie," he said. "Could we call a truce here? At least until we get to the flat?"
"What did you call me?" Elizabeth stared at him, her eyes round like saucers.
Will smiled to himself. He had been hoping to distract her.
"You've never called me Lizzie before! It's always been Elizabeth."
"You must be mistaken. I don't always call you Elizabeth." He grinned at her.
She smiled saucily. "Those times don't count, my dear. There's no-one else to hear you, then." She put her hand on his leg. "I'm sorry, Will. I shouldn't have yelled at you."
Will nodded, but said nothing. He didn't trust her not to take anything he said and twist it around.
Elizabeth gazed out the window at the lights of the city. "Is there much farther to go?"
"No. Another five minutes."
True to his word, he pulled into the parking spot a few minutes later. Will gently lifted William from the back seat and handed him to Elizabeth. Then he retrieved their bags from the boot and led the way to the door.
"Evening, sir." said the doorman as he held it open.
"Alan." Will acknowledged.
They took the lift to the twenty-third floor and got out. Will opened the door and turned on the light. After putting their bags down, he took William from his wife and carried their son to the spare bedroom to lay him in the bed. Elizabeth was on the sofa, her legs stretched out in front of her, when he returned.
"It's a beautiful flat, Will. What a fantastic view." She gestured to the large window overlooking the city.
He nodded briefly and turned his attention to unpacking the case that Mrs. Dodson had sent with them. Elizabeth watched him.
"What's all that?"
"Tomorrow's breakfast for starters." Will replied.
Elizabeth got up from the sofa to help him put everything away. As she opened the cupboards and saw how empty they were she smiled. "Now I know why Mrs. Dodson sent the supplies." She stopped and opened the cupboards again. Turning to her husband she looked at him with a puzzled expression. "Will, where are the pots?"
Will stared at her blankly. "Pots?"
"You know," Elizabeth prompted. "The containers you cook in."
"There are no pots." he said simply.
Elizabeth drew her brows together. "I can see that. What do you eat when you stay here?"
"I order from the restaurant downstairs. Or I get a take-away." Will explained to his amused wife.
"Well that's going to change right now," she said firmly. "I'll ring Mrs. Reynolds immediately and ask her to have my pots sent here tomorrow. We are not going to be eating take-away every day! First thing in the morning we go to the market."
"Yes, dear." Will sighed. As she left him to make the call to Pemberley he wondered if his father-in-law had any more advice to help him get through the next week.
Elizabeth turned her head to look at her husband framed in the doorway. "Yes?"
"What do you think you're doing?" He frowned as he approached her.
She tugged at the box on the shelf above her. "I'm getting William's old baby things down. I want to go through them."
"Elizabeth, come down from there at once! Why on earth didn't you ask one of the staff to get these for you?" Will reached out to help her down from her perch on the ladder. Elizabeth merely frowned at him in return.
"I'm pregnant, Will. It's a condition, not an illness! Are you going to be like this for the next five months?"
Will dropped his hands to his sides. His wife's temper had shortened exponentially with the advancement of her pregnancy. "My, dear." he said quietly, having decided to try another approach, "we have innumerable members of staff at our disposal. There really is no need for you to be climbing up and down ladders when any one of them would gladly do it for you." He looked into her eyes, pouring as much heartfelt emotion into his glance as he could. "You know I'm only thinking of you and the baby."
It worked. Elizabeth relented and stepped down to the floor. Will let his breath out slowly, wondering when his luck would run out, and Elizabeth become too stubborn to back down. He followed as she walked over to the window seat and turned to face him.
"Give me your hand." she said. Will looked at her in surprise. "Give me your hand." she repeated.
He extended his hand and she placed it on her belly. Will looked puzzled for a moment, then his eyes opened wide and he gazed at his wife in amazement.
Elizabeth nodded. "Your son, or daughter."
Will's smile lit up his face. "Does she do this all the time?"
Elizabeth's eyebrows rose. "She?" she chuckled. "No, not all the time. I've only noticed it in the last few days."
Will grinned again as he felt more movement under his palm. "Elizabeth?" He gazed at her solemnly. "What was it like.... with William? The first time you felt this?"
Elizabeth looked at him thoughtfully. "The first time..... I was at Jane's, helping her decorate for Christmas. It was such a surprise, this sudden fluttery movement! I think I frightened Jane when I cried out. She laughed at me afterward." She paused, and her expression became more serious. "That was the day you called Charles and told him you weren't coming to Netherfield. You went to Greece, I believe."
Will moved his hand to take Elizabeth's and squeeze it gently. "Actually, it was Georgiana who went to Greece. I was in London."
Elizabeth stared at him. "London? By yourself?"
"Oh, Will! What a miserable way to spend Christmas." Elizabeth's eyes were brimming with emotion.
Will laughed lightly. "Don't go feeling sorry for me, Elizabeth. I did enough of that, myself. Besides, I had plenty of companions. Ten of them as a matter of fact. One for every night of the new year until I had to pick up Georgiana at the airport."
Elizabeth's eyebrows knit together in puzzlement. "I don't understand."
Will shook his head, amused. "Bottles of whiskey, my dear."
Her mouth fell open. "You drank ten bottles of whiskey!?"
Her husband nodded while she shook her head in disbelief. "Don't look at me like that, Elizabeth. I didn't spend the entire three years we were apart drinking! Only those ten days."
"Did you make it to the airport to pick up your sister?"
Will smiled. "No. Her friend's parents drove her back to Pemberley."
"Georgiana must have been beside herself worrying about what had happened to you!"
Rolling his eyes, Will replied, "She was livid when I finally got home and she saw I wasn't dead! Mind you, I felt like I was." He took her other hand and brought both of them to his lips. Gently kissing her fingers, he gazed longingly into her eyes. "I've never felt more alive since we met again at Charles'. I'll never leave you again, Elizabeth."
Suddenly catching sight of a figure passing by the open doorway, Elizabeth called out, "Daniel!"
A young man in footman's garb peered around the corner. "Yes, Mrs. Darcy?"
"Could you please help my husband get those boxes down from the top shelf over there?" She looked at Will with a teasing smile.
"Certainly, ma'am." Daniel crossed to the ladder and climbed up. One by one he lowered the boxes to Will. Elizabeth was into them as Will placed each one on the floor.
"That's the last one, sir." Daniel said, peering into the dark recesses above him.
"Thank you Daniel. That will be all." Will waited until the man left the room before joining his wife in her exploration of the contents.
Elizabeth was holding up a small pair of coveralls, an odd expression on her face. Seeing her husband watching her, she smiled self-consciously. "Just reminiscing, Will. There are a lot of memories wrapped up in these boxes."
Will picked up a pair of tiny sleepers. "William wore these? They're so small!"
Elizabeth laughed. "There's smaller stuff than that!" She rummaged around, pulling out socks, shirts, rattles and teethers. Will dug into another container and pulled out a smaller cardboard box.
"What's this? Photos?" he asked curiously.
Elizabeth touched her hand to the lid of the box. "So that's where I put it. I wondered where it had been packed." She placed the box firmly in Will's hands. "This is for you."
Will looked at her, not comprehending. "For me?"
Elizabeth nodded. "I started this before William was born. It's everything you missed. His hospital card, newborn photo, anything and everything I could think of to put in there. His whole life in photos and anecdotes." Will just continued to stare at her. "Jane and Charles are William's godparents. If anything happened to me they would have been looking after our son. I wanted you to know everything in case that happened. I wasn't able to face you myself, but I didn't want you to be forever in the dark."
Will's fingers ran over the edges of the box. He started to lift the lid when his wife's hands stopped him.
"Not here, Will. You need time to go through it. And you should do it alone. Why don't you take it to your study while I sort through these things?"
Will's eyes met hers, equally bright with gathering tears. He nodded once and climbed to his feet. Clutching the precious box in his hands, Will kissed her softly and left the room.
Elizabeth sighed and wiped at her eyes. Then she turned her attention to the boxes before her.
Will stared at the unopened box for several minutes. Tentatively he reached a hand to the lid and slowly removed it.
The contents were arranged in compartments. Laying across the top was a small book. Will picked it up and gently opened it to see the pages filled with handwritten notes. It appeared to be a diary of some sort. There were also two envelopes tucked inside the front cover. Will removed one of the envelopes and withdrew the enclosed paper. He saw that it was a copy of a birth registration form.
Manchester General Hospice
Date: May 20, 1995
Time: 4:08 a.m.
Sex: Male Weight: 8 lbs 12 oz.
Name: William Bennet Darcy
Mother: Elizabeth Mae Bennet of Manchester
Father: Fitzwilliam Darcy
Registration filed: May 24, 1995
Will stared at the paper, not quite believing what he saw. She actually registered him as a Darcy! She officially named him William Bennet Darcy. I thought she simply named him William Bennet. And she put my name on the document. She could never deny it, then.
He carefully put the form back in the envelope and placed it on the desk. Then he peered at the second envelope that was in the book. It was sealed, but on the outside was written Mr. F. Darcy, complete with the Pemberley address, as if it had been destined for the post. Without a second thought he opened it.
I'm not sure I should be writing this letter. Perhaps you won't even open it. If you have, please don't throw it away now that you know it's from me.
I don't know how to say what I need to say, so I'll just be blunt. I'm pregnant. I'm going to have your baby. I wanted to tell you in person, but you didn't come here for Christmas like I expected. I didn't know at Jane's wedding or I would have told you then.
I don't want anything from you. I know how you must despise us, me. I just thought you had a right to know about your child. I will have this baby. No matter what you may think of me, or my family, I still love you with all my heart, and I will love this child, too.
If you want to contact me, Charles knows where I am. If you aren't interested, don't worry. I haven't told anyone that you are the father of my baby, not even Jane. If that's the way you want it to be, the truth will go with me to my grave.
I know that you loved me once. Our child was conceived in love.
I will love you forever, Will.
Will blinked back tears. "Why didn't you post this, Elizabeth?" he whispered. He pulled the book closer and turned the page to the first entry.
February 14, 1995
Wouldn't you know I'd write you on St. Valentine's Day? Your son is kicking up a storm at this moment. Yes, I decided it's a boy. And I've picked out a name already. I hope you don't mind. I'm going to call him William. William Bennet Darcy. I'm sorry, but it's the closest I'm going to get to your name. I think Fitzwilliam is a bit heavy for such a wee sprite. Besides, if I call him that then everyone will know who his daddy is!
I decided against mailing the last letter as I was about to put a stamp on it. I'm a coward! I guess I feel that not knowing is better than being rejected. For me, that is. Anyway, I'm just going to keep writing in this book and put it in a big box with photos and other memories. I figure that some day I can just give you the whole thing and save some explaining.
That's not funny, I know. I have no idea how I'd tell you, now. I've left it too long. Every day that goes by it gets harder and harder. I know that the day will come when you'll find out. I just don't know when that will be, and I hope it's soon. I also hope it's 20 years from now!
I love you so much, Will. I miss you terribly. I want you here to share this with me, to feel your son kicking inside me. Some days I feel I can't do this alone. Other days I'm on top of the world. Well, as close to the top as I can get without you.
I often wonder what you are doing. I see your sister's name in the paper once in a while. She's making a splash in society. I'm glad she's picked some good friends to chum around with. I haven't seen your name, though. I keep expecting to hear something from Jane and Charles. They used to always praise you to the skies to me. I miss that. They never mention you anymore.
I'm sorry this is so short, but I have to go to class now. I'll write again soon.
Loving you always,
Will blindly turned the pages, reading entry after entry.
March 23, 1995
What a misery I am! I can't believe what I did! I hate spring break with a passion. Nothing to do but sit around this flat feeling sorry for myself. I feel like such a bloody cow! Fat, dumpy and miserable. Now you can be glad you're not here with me.
I was in such a state of despair that I rang Jane and begged her to come visit me. She took time off of work to keep me company, her poor miserable sister. I wasn't very nice at all! I'm so short-tempered and I feel absolutely huge! There's still two months left, and my doctor tells me the worst is yet to come!
I can't wait.
March 29, 1995
I feel much better now. It was just a phase, I guess. I'm going to Jane's for Easter. I need to get away from here for a bit. Even if Mama gives me grief I'll just try to ignore her.
Where are you, Will? Jane mentioned that you never visit them. Charles hasn't heard from you in weeks. I was hoping to at least hear about you from them.
Lord, I miss you!
May 19, 1995
I'm scared, Will! My labour started early this morning. I really need you here. I need your strength, your love. God, how I need your love!
Papa's on his way, but Jane is out of town. Even though the baby's early my doctor says there's nothing to worry about. I hope he's right.
Why does it have to be this way? Why couldn't we be together? I've never wanted anything so much in my life as I want you.
May 20, 1995
You have a son! We have a son! He is so beautiful. I can hardly believe he's mine. Oh, Will, you couldn't help loving him if you could see him! If you were only here to see him, to hold him. It's unlike anything else I've ever experienced. To hold this little life, a life formed within my own body! I can't describe it in words!
He's so perfect.
I can't write for much longer. I'm so tired. But I had to put something down on paper right away before I fell asleep. Papa is so proud, walking around here like a peacock. He's so proud to have a grandson!
I told you I'd name him William Bennet Darcy. That's what I put on his registration form, but I've told Papa it's William Bennet. Someday our son will want to know about his father. I've decided not to hide that information from him, at least. I have a picture of you. I'll tell him every day that you are his daddy.
July 8, 1995
He has your smile! He's such a happy baby. His smile is exactly like yours, only he uses it more than you do!
October 20, 1995
Where does the time go? Between school and William I haven't had time to write anything for you. I'm so sorry.
He's five months old today. Five months! I can hardly believe how fast the time has gone by! It's been a whole year since I saw you last, Will. So much has happened in that year.
I still miss you desperately. Every time I look at William I see you in his smile. I hear your laugh when he laughs. If I wasn't destined to have you, I thank God for blessing me with your son.
Jane tells me nothing of you and I can't very well ask without it appearing strange. I pray that you are well. I can't think why you haven't been in contact with Charles. Perhaps you've found someone else to occupy your time.
Oh, how that thought tears at my heart! I know that you will eventually marry. You have too much pride in your family name and history to let it stop with you. I dread the day I read that announcement in the paper.
I'm too depressed to write anything today.
April 10, 1996
I've been so remiss in writing in this book, but rest assured that I have been adding photos and other things into the box.
I put a lock of William's hair in today. What a mass of curls he has! I truly wish he didn't look so much like you. Where am I in him?
He's going to be walking any day now. He spends his day creeping along the edge of the sofa, the tables, pulling everything down to the floor. Then he grins at me as I pick it all up.
He's growing so fast. He eats like I've never seen! He loves food! Mama says I was like that, too. So I guess there is something of me in him after all.
Will looked up from the book. It was getting harder to see the words on the pages. He got up from his chair to walk about the room, stretching his legs. When he sat down again, he drew the box to him and pulled out the photos.
They were arranged in order, the back of each filled with writing, beginning with one of William and Elizabeth in the hospital. He went through photo after photo, witnessing the growth of his son from a tiny newborn to the lively two-year-old he'd met in the garden at Netherfield.
There were several other things in the box. Will found the lock of hair that Elizabeth had written about, along with William's hospital identification bracelet, copies of medical forms, coloured pictures which he attributed to his son, and a pair of shoes.
When nothing more remained in the box, Will turned his attention once again to the book of Elizabeth's writings. The next entry was dated May 15, 1996. Will settled himself back in his chair to read the rest of them.
"I don't think we can hold dinner for much longer, Mrs. Darcy."
Elizabeth glanced up from her reading to look at Mrs. Dodson. It was nearly eight o'clock and William was already in bed. Closing her book she rose from her chair. "No, I don't suppose you can. I'll go check on my husband and see if he's ready."
Standing before the study door, Elizabeth hesitated before knocking. She didn't want to disturb him, but a part of her longed to know of his reaction after going through the box she'd put together for him. At last she raised her hand and rapped on the wood. She could hear a faint voice inviting her to enter.
"Will?" she said quietly, closing the door behind her.
Will looked up and smiled at her. "Come here, Elizabeth." She advanced toward him and Will pulled her onto his lap. "How can I thank you for this?"
Thanks was not what Elizabeth had expected. "Thank me? I thought for sure you would be angry with me all over again."
"No." he said quietly. "I had thought all of these memories beyond my reach. You have given me so much with these bits and pieces from William's life. It was a wonderful idea. I'm so glad you thought to do it." He kissed her lips and pulled her against his chest. "I don't have the words to tell you how the entries in your book affected me. You loved me so steadfastly all that time."
"How could I not? You gave me William." She shyly turned her eyes on him. "I haven't read those entries since I first wrote them. I hope they didn't..... I hope I didn't hurt your feelings with the things I said."
Will gently shook his head. He recalled some of her later writings being more cynical about himself, but he could understand and accept her reasons. He, too, had been resentful of her apparent happiness to go on without him. "I am grateful for the insight into your feelings during those years. I tend to dwell too much on my own."
Elizabeth enjoyed the comfort of his embrace for a few moments. Then she recalled why she had come to see him. "Mrs. Dodson has been holding dinner for a while, Will. Are you wanting to eat, now?"
He nodded. "Elizabeth?" he said as they left the study for the dining room.
She paused and looked up at him. His eyes were soft and warm as he gazed into hers. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything more there was a commotion in the hallway, and they heard the voice of the butler.
"Good evening Miss Darcy, Mr. Osborne."
"Georgiana?" Will called out.
His sister came rushing toward him. "Oh Will, just wait until you hear! Brian's been offered a position!"
"That's wonderful!" cried Elizabeth. "Come in the dining room and tell us all about it. Have you eaten? We were just about to sit down."
Georgiana and Brian followed them into the dining room and sat down at the table. While the servers were busy setting two more places and laying out the food, Brian told them about his offer.
"The company I've been doing some freelance work for asked me to come aboard full-time."
"They're in Portugal, aren't they?" Will asked.
Brian nodded. "Lisbon."
"Do they have an office in the U.K.?" Elizabeth noted Georgiana's mixed emotions.
"No." Brian conceded. "But they do have one in Tokyo and in New York."
Will also looked at his sister. "You could be moving around a fair bit, then."
"That's true. But it won't be limited to the company offices. I'll be required to attend the on-site construction of some of my own designs." Brian went on enthusiastically. "First I need to complete an orientation and training session with the company."
"When will that be?" Elizabeth asked.
"He leaves next week for Lisbon." replied Georgiana.
"It's only for three weeks," Brian said quickly, more to his fiancee than to anyone else. "Then I'll be back here until I receive my company assignment."
"You mean they might send you overseas right away?" Elizabeth reached for her sister-in-law's hand and squeezed it. "What about the wedding?"
"Elizabeth," Will said quietly. "Let's cross that bridge when we come to it. I'm sure Brian won't have any problem getting here for their wedding, no matter where he is at the time."
"I can make that promise." Brian assured them. "Don't think you can get rid of me that easily, Georgie."
Will nodded. "No matter where your fiancé goes, little sister, be assured that I will make sure he's at the church on time. Even if I have to take a company jet to fly him here personally."
That brought a smile to Georgiana's face. "I can see you doing just that, Will."
"What are over-protective big brothers for?" laughed Elizabeth.
"I am not over-protective!" objected Will, but he smiled nonetheless.
"Well, I hope you won't mind if I come home a bit more often while Brian's away." his sister said.
"Of course we won't mind." Elizabeth said easily.
Will thought it a good idea, inwardly hoping that Georgiana's presence might steady his wife's growing unpredictability.
They talked through dinner about the young couple's progress on their wedding plans. Shortly before ten Georgiana and Brian said goodnight and headed back to Manchester. Will took his wife's arm and they made their way upstairs.
"Georgiana's going to be very lonely when Brian's away." Elizabeth said as she climbed into bed.
"Probably, yes." Will replied, pulling the blankets up around her shoulders. "But he won't be gone long."
"This time. What if he's sent to America?" Elizabeth snuggled up next to Will's warm body. "She'll be so upset if that happens."
Kissing her softly, Will murmured, "Stop getting ahead of yourself, my dear. She can just as easily pick up her studies someplace else. You did." He rested his hand on her slightly bulging belly. "All quiet tonight?"
Elizabeth smiled at him. "For now. Just wait a few minutes. I'm sure he'll be doing cartwheels soon."
Will chuckled as Elizabeth snuggled closer, laying her head on his chest.
Will spun around, searching out the location of his son's voice. "Good God, William, where are you?"
"DADDY!!" the boy wailed again.
Will finally spotted the tiny figure clinging to a low branch of the large oak tree next to the pond. He raced over to grab William before he fell into the water, but he had to wade through the reeds before he was able to reach him.
"How did you get up there?" Will demanded once they were back on dry land and he'd determined that his son was unhurt.
William sniffled and wiped a sleeve across his face. "I wanted to get the kitty."
"What?" Will looked at him, then up into the tree. Sure enough that blasted cat that his son had brought from Netherfield was up in the branches. "William, I don't care where your cat goes, you don't climb up into the trees." I know where I'd like your cat to go! "The next time we play hide and seek you remember that you're not supposed to leave the gardens!" Will looked at the state of his clothes, then at William's. "Oh, just look at you. You're a right mess. Your mother's going to send us both to our rooms!" William giggled. "I wasn't being funny."
Will took his son's hand and they started back toward the house. When they reached the front steps, Will stopped and knelt down beside the boy.
"William, we're going straight upstairs and getting you washed and into clean clothes. I don't want to hear you make a sound until we're in your room. Is that clear?" William
nodded. "I hope we have enough time before your Aunt Georgiana gets here."
"Aunt Janna?" William looked up excitedly. He hadn't been able to get his tongue around her full name but Georgiana adored his shortened version.
Will sighed. "Yes. You want to look like a proper young man for her, don't you?"
William's head bobbed up and down eagerly.
"Then let's go transform you from the filthy heathen you currently resemble."
Surprisingly William followed his father through the front hall and up the stairs soundlessly. Will was about to congratulate himself on reaching his son's room unobserved when a door opened and Elizabeth appeared in the hallway.
She stared at them for at least three seconds before Will saw her eyes narrow and he tensed in anticipation.
"William Bennet Darcy." she said quietly. "And Fitzwilliam Darcy! I can't leave you two alone for five minutes together without it coming to disaster."
"On the contrary, my dear," Will ventured in a steady tone that he certainly didn't feel. "We were outside for a good hour and a half this morning. Did you get your work done?"
Elizabeth stared back at him, unsmiling. "Don't get clever with me. Your sister is going to be here any minute, and you two look as if you've just stepped out of a coal mine! How do you manage it?"
"It's not that easy, actually. It takes rather a lot of planning. You see, first I have to convince William to let me roll him around in the flower beds, then we wade in the bog by the pond, searching for frogs." Will could see his wife's mouth twitching as she tried not to smile. "It's no different than we do every day after you've gone to work. If we'd had another thirty seconds to slip into his room, you would never have known the difference."
Elizabeth looked at her son, standing beside his father, clutching his hand. His smile stood out in his dirt smudged face. Then she looked back at Will's wide-eyed innocent expression. "I give up." She waved her hand dismissively. "Frogs, indeed! Next you'll be teaching him to swim in the pond."
"Oh, no dear." Will said as he ushered William into his room. "It's far too cold for that." Just before the door closed behind him, he added, "That will have to wait until next summer."
Elizabeth looked at the floor and shook her head. "Why did I ever think I married a man? I'm surrounded by children."
Giving an exasperated sigh, she went downstairs to wait for Georgiana. Elizabeth chose the music room to spend her time, and immediately crossed to the window to gaze out at the view that had captured her heart on her first visit to Pemberley. Many of the leaves were still on the trees, for though it was late October, they'd had a very warm September and the colours hadn't appeared until well into the following month. She watched the reflection of the clouds in the lake as they moved swiftly across the sky. A small gray form streaked across the grass and Elizabeth smiled as she recognized her son's favourite cat. At times her lonely existence in Manchester seemed as if it was a lifetime ago.
She was so lost in thought that she was startled to hear Georgiana's voice behind her.
"I'm sorry, Georgiana. I didn't hear you come in." Elizabeth looked at her sister-in-law's sad eyes. "Did you see Brian off at the airport?"
Georgiana nodded. "I even waited in the carpark to watch his plane leave." She sniffled.
Elizabeth held out her arms. "Come here." She wrapped them around the younger woman as Georgiana cried into her shoulder.
"Oh, Elizabeth," she said when she finally stopped her sniffling. "How am I going to get through the next few months?"
In spite of her sympathy for Georgiana, Elizabeth couldn't help being amused at her melodramatic reaction. She, herself, had suffered through far worse than a simple separation from her fiancé for a few months. She is still so young and so naive. "Georgiana, he's only gone to Portugal. It's not the end of the world. You'll see him in March."
"I know. It's just that it was hard enough for those three weeks last month." She wiped at her eyes with a tissue. "I can't let Will see me like this. He'll think I'm being silly."
"No, he won't." Elizabeth said reassuringly. "I believe you'll find him far more sympathetic than you think."
Georgiana smiled. "Where is he, anyway, and that adorable little son of yours?"
"They're getting cleaned up from their adventures this morning. Honestly, Georgiana, that brother of yours is incorrigible! I swear he's deliberately showing William where to find all the filthiest places to play in."
"Are you talking about my brother? Will Darcy?" Georgiana laughed. "That's not possible. He used to berate me for coming in with mud on my shoes."
"You should have seen them a little while ago. They looked like a couple of bog people!"
"Don't exaggerate, Elizabeth," Will said from the doorway. "Only William looked like that." He smiled at his sister as William ran to her and jumped up into her arms.
Her nephew's enthusiastic greeting brought a smile to Georgiana's face. She hugged him to her and kissed him soundly on the cheek. "I have something for you, William." she said mysteriously.
William's eyes lit up. "What is it?" he whispered.
Elizabeth frowned slightly. She wasn't happy with her son constantly being spoiled with gifts from well-meaning relatives. She watched as Georgiana put William down and reached into her bag to pull out a small box. William took it carefully and pried it open. He gave a delighted cry and pulled a toy car from the box.
"It's Daddy's car!" he said excitedly, and proceeded to drive the little vehicle around the coffee table. Will peered closer and grinned when he saw that it was indeed a small replica of a dark green Jaguar XJ12.
"You must have searched a while for that one, Georgie." he laughed.
"I couldn't resist it when I saw it." she replied with a shy smile. She caught Elizabeth's unamused expression and fell silent.
Will noticed the direction of her gaze and leaned toward her. "It's not you, Georgie. I'm in her bad books today."
Elizabeth's frown deepened and she reached for a nearby magazine to send it flying over Will's head. "And you'll stay there if you're going to talk about me like I'm not here!"
Will ducked the missile and tried to keep a straight face. "I think discretion is the better part of valour at the moment. I'll see you later, Georgie."
"Coward!" Elizabeth called as he slipped out the door, William in tow. Georgiana stared at her in shock. Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. "He just gets right up my nose some days."
Georgiana smiled faintly. "Are you sure you aren't being a little over sensitive?"
"Don't you start, too. Everyone's blaming my pregnancy, but they're all just.... just....." she floundered for words, then gave up and shook her head. "Okay, I'm probably being over sensitive. Everyone else is likely right! I have no control over my own body let alone my brain anymore! Georgiana," Elizabeth sighed as she looked to her sister-in-law for sympathy. "I still have three months to go. Will's going to be lucky to stay alive at this rate!"
Georgiana giggled. "What can I do to distract you?"
Elizabeth sat down heavily on the sofa. "Do you have any amusing stories?"
"About Will?" Georgiana looked doubtful.
Seating herself next to Elizabeth, her sister-in-law had a suggestion. "You never told me that story about Will's first proposal. I'd like to hear that." She secretly hoped that if Elizabeth was annoyed enough with her brother she'd finally tell her this one. Up until now, Elizabeth didn't want to embarrass Will by relating it.
"Oh, alright. But if you breathe a word of this to Will......."
"I won't. I promise. Was it that summer when you stayed at Lambton and you got... uh..." Georgiana's voice faded away.
Elizabeth smiled. "No. Actually it was a few months before that. I was visiting my friend Charlotte, who lives in the same village as your Aunt Catherine. Charlotte's husband is the local vicar and they were planning a charity ball. Charlotte asked me to help her with the organizing. Your brother arrived on a visit to your aunt and we ran into each other fairly frequently, either when I was out walking, or when I went into the village to do some shopping. I could never understand why he kept stopping to talk to me. I thought he didn't like me. I certainly didn't like him."
"Why didn't you like him? Oh! Is Will the man you told me about last year? The one you told off?" Georgiana giggled when Elizabeth nodded her head.
"I'm embarrassed to admit that I believed George Wickham's lies about Will rather than taking the trouble to get to know your brother. Regardless, Will didn't go out of his way to be overly friendly when I first met him and I saw no need to question George's version of the story." She paused to organize her next thoughts. "When the night of the ball arrived, I was assisting Charlotte with the running of the event, so I didn't have to participate in the dancing or other activities. I noticed your aunt, Will and Richard arrive, and Richard went out of his way to say hello to me. Will seemed reluctant to be there at all."
"He hates those sort of things." Georgiana said distastefully. "Aunt Catherine probably gave him no choice."
"Likely so. Near the end of the evening we had an auction. One by one the ladies were auctioned off for one dance. Since it was for charity I could hardly say no, so up on the stage I went. We all had to stand with our backs to the crowd, so we wouldn't see who the bidders were."
Georgiana smiled at Elizabeth's obvious relish in recalling the event. "I guess I don't need to ask who the successful bidder was for you?"
"Will, of course." Elizabeth smiled fondly. "But I didn't find out until the call for the dance came later in the evening. I was shocked, to say the least, when I found out it was him."
"Will's a great dancer. What kind of music did they play?"
"Not too fast, not too slow. And I was pleasantly surprised with his skill on the dance floor, even though he hardly said a word to me. I was very uncomfortable with the situation, knowing that he'd paid a hefty sum of money to dance with me and I didn't like him at all. When the dance was over he escorted me back to my station at the front table and hung about for awhile. But he still wasn't very talkative. I was busy keeping track of the money coming in, so I don't know when he finally left. It was a long day for me, and Charlotte and I were exhausted."
"So, when did you see him next?"
Elizabeth laughed at the eagerness in Georgiana's voice. "A couple of days later. I was walking into the village and stepped in a pothole, twisting my ankle."
"And Will rescued you!"
"No. I managed to hobble back home and spent the evening with my foot up and ice packs on it. Charlotte, her husband and I were supposed to go to a fund raising meeting at Rosings. Your aunt was chair of the committee. I couldn't go, of course, so the others went without me. About an hour later Will was at the door, ostensibly to ask how my ankle was. He asked if I'd had it seen to, and I replied no. So he felt compelled to make an examination of it himself, concluding that all I needed was ice packs and some rest!"
"Oh, poor Will!" Georgiana laughed.
"Yes, poor Will. He wasn't making any inroads in my estimation of him. And then he decided to keep me company until Charlotte returned home! I was hardly pleasant company. I was incredibly rude to him every time he opened his mouth. Fortunately for him, he was as talkative as ever." Elizabeth paused in her narration to peer over at the tea trolley. "Are you thirsty, Georgiana? Mrs. Reynolds always puts a pitcher of ice water out for me. It's so blasted hot in here." She crossed to the trolley and poured herself a glass of the cold liquid.
"No thanks," Georgiana replied. She watched Elizabeth drink half of the contents and refill the glass. When her companion was seated once again, Georgiana asked "So, when did Will get around to proposing?"
"Don't be so impatient, my girl! You Darcys are all alike." Elizabeth took another sip of water. "Will came by every day to check on how my ankle was coming along. Charlotte teased me mercilessly about how Will was gone on me, and how I should be so flattered. I thought it was a load of bunk. I was so miserable that I just refused to see that she was right. By the time I was able to resume my daily walks nearly a week had passed, with Will testing my patience every day. I was wild to get out of the house and into the fresh air. Wouldn't you know that your brother would be out walking my favourite paths that same morning."
Georgiana giggled. "He probably rang your friend and she told him where you'd gone."
"I have no doubt of that!" Elizabeth smiled. "Will and I walked for a while, then I needed to rest since I'd not worked my ankle for so long. We sat on a rock outcropping next to the river. Will was quieter than usual. Not that I minded that. I preferred it, as a matter of fact. Suddenly he got up and stood in front of me. He looked me in the eye, very steadily, and said he loved me. He said he couldn't help it, that he'd tried to convince himself it was just an infatuation, but the more he saw of me, the more he realized it was real. He couldn't think straight, he was always thinking about me, dreaming about me.... Georgiana, I really didn't want to hear things like that! I didn't need to know about his dreams! Then he concluded by saying that the only thing to do was to marry me. And it wasn't even a question!"
Georgiana stared at her, aghast. "I can't believe that Will was so tactless, so unromantic!"
"I had no trouble believing it. Needless to say, I told him no."
"Just like that? You let him off easy." Georgiana said incredulously.
"It wasn't as easy for him as you'd think. I could tell by his face that he never expected me to say no. He was shocked and hurt, not that it mattered to me. But he wouldn't let it rest there. He demanded to know why I refused."
Elizabeth nodded. "So I gave it to him. Every detail that George related to me. There were other things I said, too; how much I disliked his stuck-up attitude, his interfering with Charles and Jane's relationship..... That's when he gave it back to me."
"He did what?"
"He didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. I just wasn't willing to admit that he was right. My mother is an embarrassment to me, my youngest sister... well, enough said about her. The irony of it is that everything I said about him was untrue, and everything he said to me was deserved." Elizabeth's expression became apologetic. "Then I really hurt him. I said he was the last man on earth that I could ever be prevailed upon to marry."
A weak "Oh," was all Georgiana could manage. A thoughtful expression came over her face. "That explains a few things; why Will was so miserable and quick to take offense at the slightest criticism that spring. But Elizabeth, what happened to make you change your mind?"
Elizabeth fanned herself with a magazine. "Will set me straight on a few matters, especially those concerning George Wickham. He wrote me a very long letter outlining everything that George had done to your family, and other people. I felt so bad about accusing him of those horrible things, Georgiana! I started to think about what I really knew of your brother from my own association with him, and there was very little to criticize. True, his social skills were lacking; he hardly ever participated in conversations. But when I looked at him in a more objective manner I began to wonder if perhaps he wasn't a little shy rather than deliberately snubbing us. I started to feel pretty guilty about how rude I was to him, and how much I hurt him. He may not have expressed his feelings in the way a woman likes to hear it, but he still loved me. And after I got through with him, I'm sure he was ready to crawl under a rock."
"Will has always been rather reluctant to socialize," Georgiana agreed. "It was very difficult for him to encourage me to get out and become involved in the upper circles. He began pushing me into it after I got back from Greece one Christmas. I was very surprised, and got the feeling he wanted to get rid of me because once I found some friends who were willing to take me to the parties and events, Will just faded into the background. I confess that I resented him for doing that. But he was so depressed at the time that I really can't blame him for it, now." She looked at Elizabeth, understanding clearly marked in her eyes. "If I lost Brian, I'd be just as devastated as Will was."
Elizabeth gazed at her sister-in-law in silence. Georgiana certainly had matured in many ways. She tried to shake off the melancholy mood that her memories had induced. "How he can possibly be so cheerful with me arguing and throwing things at him now, is beyond me! Georgiana, I don't know why I have so little self-control. The smallest thing sets me off."
"Did you have the same problem when you were pregnant last time?"
"I suppose so. But I was living on my own, so I could justify my misery with that. Your poor brother has been so patient with me, and I have been so horrible to him." Elizabeth smiled suddenly. "Would you like to come shopping with me tomorrow? I'd like to start on my Christmas list. Lord knows, I won't be wanting to do it in another month!"
Georgiana returned her smile. "I'd love to. You need to get out and do something other than work, and I could use the distraction myself."
"Good. I have some ideas for Will's gifts that I'd like to check out."
They put their heads together to plan out the next day's destinations.
Will popped his head around the door into the music room. He caught sight of Elizabeth sitting at the piano, studying some sheet music. Will grinned. He knew she couldn't read music well enough to play it, and the pages in front of her were littered with notes. He watched as she bit her lip, staring at the notes, tentatively pressing on the keys. Before he was unable to prevent his laughter from breaking free, he withdrew from the doorway and pushed the door quietly closed.
He headed for the stairs, then paused at the foot, changed his mind, and retraced his steps as far as the doorway to the lower stairs. Quickly, Will disappeared down to the kitchen level to find the housekeeper.
Elizabeth looked up from her book as the clock chimed the hour. She frowned, noting the time and wondering where her husband was. She tossed her book onto the table beside her and leaned her head against the back of the chair.
Suddenly she realized the house was very quiet. Too quiet. At seven o'clock Pemberley should be a hive of activity. William had already been in to say goodnight. Dinner would be served any moment. Yet no-one had come to announce dinner.
She sat up straighter and frowned in thought. He's up to something.
Elizabeth rose from her seat, acutely aware of the growing difficulty she was having in doing that simple task. She crossed to the door and opened it.
The hallway was dark. No, not completely dark. Her eyes discerned a faint flickering from the direction of the stairs. She moved carefully toward the tiny light and stared in surprise at the candle on the bottom step. It was a large candle, and the light it gave off was sufficient to allow her to climb the first few stairs without any concern. Another candle flickered further up the staircase, and yet another further on.
Slightly puzzled, Elizabeth gazed up into the darkness above her. She still heard no sound from anywhere in the house. She looked at the trail of candles once more and smiled. Then she started up the stairs.
In the upper hallway more candles awaited her. They lit a merry path along the floor, the yellow glow reflecting off the highly polished wood. Elizabeth followed once again. At the third candle she stopped and bent down to examine the shadowy form at the base.
"How sweet," she murmured as she picked up the single rose.
Another three candles and she stopped to retrieve another rose. This continued until she reached a doorway in front of which was arrayed a dozen candles and a dozen more roses.
Elizabeth hastily wiped away a tear. Every emotion was so close to the surface lately. How can you be so wonderfully sweet to me when I'm such a horrible witch?
Tentatively, she reached for the handle of the door and gently pushed it open. The room was lit in the same manner as her route to it. She noted the table in the centre was set with china and crystal, with two tapers next to an arrangement of orchids in the middle.
A figure rose from a seat next to the window and moved toward her. Elizabeth blinked back more tears as Will took her hands in his and drew her forward to her seat at the table. He pushed the chair in for her and took his own. They said nothing for a moment, merely meeting one another's eyes across the flames. Then Will motioned to someone behind her.
Elizabeth watched as the food was placed on their plates, and still Will was silently gazing at her, his eyes caressing her face. She blushed and was thankful for the dim lighting.
Will dismissed the server in a quiet voice, his eyes never leaving his wife. The door closed softly and he took her hand gently, raising it to his lips. Elizabeth closed her eyes at the touch of those lips.
"Beauty is a word that does no justice to the woman I see before me."
Elizabeth's breath caught in her throat. She opened her eyes to look at the man who could love her so unconditionally that he would do this for her despite her atrocious behaviour toward him. She opened her mouth to speak but he placed his fingers on her lips. Picking up a fork, Will pierced a morsel from her plate and lifted it to her mouth. She parted her lips and he carefully slipped it in. Elizabeth's eyes widened as she recognized her favourite seafood. She savoured the flavour, watching her husband retrieve another piece, waiting.
She placed her fingers over his, smiling as she said "Thank you, Will. I really don't deserve this. You must eat your own dinner before it cools."
Will smiled at her mischievously, but released the fork into her hand. They ate their dinner, accompanied by quiet, pleasant conversation. Elizabeth felt more relaxed than she had in weeks. Will cleared their empty plates away and brought a bowl of fruits from the adjoining anteroom.
"Grapes, my dear?" Will said in a low voice.
Elizabeth looked at his innocent expression and giggled. "Perhaps one.... or two."
He smiled broadly and placed the bowl before her. "Would you care for me to peel them for you?"
"Maybe later." Elizabeth giggled again.
Will raised his eyebrows and stepped over to the wall behind him. He leaned down and suddenly there was music playing quietly in the room. Will extended his hand out to her.
"May I have this dance?"
Elizabeth gave him her hand and he pulled her into his arms, holding her close. She laid her head on his shoulder, sighing with contentment. Will lowered his face until his cheek rested on hers, breathing in the scent of her hair.
"I love you, Will." Elizabeth whispered.
Will smiled. "You have made me the happiest man alive. I love you dearly, Elizabeth Darcy."
She felt the tears starting again at his words, and snuggled herself closer to him.
They danced and laughed and loved one another, softly, tenderly, as they never had before.
"So do you like this one?"
Will cocked his head to one side and peered closer at her. "I'm hardly a proper judge of frocks, Georgiana, let alone wedding gowns."
"Will!" she whined.
He smiled and shook his head at her. "Don't expect me to make the choice for you. You've looked beautiful in the last fifteen you've tried on. I have no idea what you're looking for!"
Georgiana huffed in frustration. "But I can't make up my mind. What do you think Brian would like?"
Will threw his hands up in the air. "How should I know? He's your fiancé, my dear. He'd probably like you in a potato sack."
His sister glared at him. She appealed to the sales woman for help. "What do you think?"
The young lady smiled patiently. She was quite used to prospective brides and their inability to make a decision after being confronted with the myriad choices of available gowns. What she wasn't accustomed to seeing was a very attractive man accompanying the lady. She hadn't quite figured out the relationship between these two, he was too young to be her father. He certainly had a charming smile and she was most definitely interested in finding out more about him.
"I think this one," she held up the fourth gown that Georgiana had tried on, "was very elegant. Would you like to see it again?"
Georgiana eyed the gown carefully. "Sure." She took it and retreated into the dressing room.
Will glanced idly around the room. His legs were starting to go numb from sitting for the last two hours while his sister paraded around in a different outfit time after time. Giving in, he got up to stretch his muscles and began to peruse the items hanging on the nearest racks.
"Anything to your taste?" came the voice of the young sales woman.
Will smiled and turned to find her at his elbow. "Do you have something in a pink satin?"
"Oh, I think the deep blue would suit your skin tone better." she countered with a teasing grin.
Will laughed. "I'll bear it in mind."
"Okay, what do think of this one?" Georgiana called as she emerged yet again.
Will turned to look at her. After fifteen gowns he was having a great deal of difficulty in telling the difference between them. "Georgiana, why on earth did you want me to come on this excursion? Elizabeth would have been of much better use."
"Will!" Georgiana gave him a long suffering look. "Elizabeth is seven months pregnant. I wouldn't dream of dragging her all over town in her condition. Besides, you're paying for it. I thought you might like to see what I'm getting for your money!"
Will sighed and attempted to view her figure in a critical manner. "It's very lovely, Georgie. But so were seven or eight of the other ones you tried on. Okay, okay!" he cried as she levelled a furious glare in his direction. He looked through the selection of gowns she had already modelled, trying to picture her in each. Finally he pulled two out and held them up. "Try these again."
Georgiana came forward and pulled a third from the rack, then took all three back inside with her.
"Don't worry, they're all just as confused when they see how many choices they have." the sales woman assured Will.
He glanced around the roomful of satin, lace and skirts. "Is there anything my sister hasn't seen yet?"
So, you're her brother! "There are a few in the back room. She had picked out so many before we got this far." she replied, leading the way to the rear of the shop.
She trailed him as Will made his way through the racks, occasionally pulling out a gown for him to see the full effect.
"Oh, this is different." he said, bringing one forward.
"Excellent taste, sir. That is an original." The young lady drew it out so that the detailed work of the bodice was revealed.
"We'll take that for her to try on."
"Certainly. But I warn you, it's very expensive."
Will smiled as they returned to the dressing room area. "That's of no concern. Georgiana!" he called .
"Yes?" came his sister's voice from behind the walls.
"I have another one for you to look at."
"Okay. I'll just be a minute."
When Georgiana saw what her brother had found she squealed in delight. "Oh, Will! That is the most beautiful gown ever!"
"You'll need a little assistance with this one." the other woman said as she followed Georgiana back into the dressing room.
When his sister appeared once more, Will's eyes widened at her transformation. He gave a whistle and met her eyes.
"I can safely assure you that Brian will love that on you!"
Georgiana's smile lit up her face. She slowly circled in front of him and Will was startled to see that the back of the gown plunged in an open 'V' down to her waist. He was beginning to have second thoughts about it when she faced him once again. He noticed how excited she was about this gown.
"It's perfect, Will! I want this one. Please?" Her eyes were begging him to say yes.
She's not a little girl anymore, you know. And that gown proves it. He sighed. "How could I ever say no to you, Georgie?"
She squealed again and launched herself into his arms, thanking him over and over.
While Georgiana changed once again into her own clothes, the sales woman set aside the gown and prepared the bill. Georgiana joined her brother at the counter a few minutes later. She made an appointment for her first fitting while Will signed the payment slip.
As they left the shop, Georgiana was walking on air, Will was shaking his head in amusement, and the young sales woman shook hers in disappointment as she had finally noticed the wedding ring on his finger.
A few days before Christmas Georgiana joined her brother and his wife at Pemberley to spend the holiday break. Although she would be travelling to Chelmsford to visit with Brian's parents for New Year's Eve, she was happy to be able to be with her own family this Christmas. Next year she and Brian would be in their own home. Somewhere. She was a trifle anxious about not knowing where they would be yet. The company that he worked for had stationed him in Portugal for a six-month period. Where he would be sent after that remained to be seen. Georgiana would be flying out to see him during her spring break, and Brian's time in Lisbon would be up in May. Hopefully he would know soon where his next stop was to be.
Georgiana was grateful for the quiet support of her sister-in-law. Elizabeth seemed to understand exactly how she felt being apart from Brian for so long. Of course, she well realized that Elizabeth had in fact experienced a far more heart wrenching situation herself.
She glanced over at her brother, sitting by the fire pretending not to watch his wife in the chair opposite him. Georgiana smiled at their feigned disinterest in one another's activities. Having spoken to each of them earlier in the day, she knew that Elizabeth was hoping her husband would retreat to his study this evening so that she could bring his gifts out to place under the tree. Will, on the other hand, was anticipating his wife retiring early as usual so that he could do the same. She could barely stop herself from laughing as they would take turns glancing surreptitiously at one another.
Georgiana yawned and stood. "I'm going to turn in now." she announced as Elizabeth and Will looked at her.
"Goodnight, Georgiana." they both said.
She looked back as she pulled the door closed behind her, smiling to herself as she left them to solve their own minor dilemma.
Peeking in on her nephew on the way to her own room, Georgiana pushed some curls back to place a kiss on his forehead. Looking at his angelic face as he slept made her briefly wish that her parents had still been alive to see their beautiful grandson. In another two months there would be another grandchild. A granddaughter, as Will insisted. Georgiana smiled as she thought of how her brother had changed so dramatically since Elizabeth had come back into his life. She knew that had he remained as he was, then she would never have had the courage to accept Brian's proposal, leaving her brother utterly alone.
She gazed fondly at William once more before kissing him again and continuing on to her room.
After she had washed and changed into her nightgown, Georgiana picked up the telephone and dialled Brian's number. He had been expecting her call, and picked up after only one ring.
"Hi beautiful." he said immediately.
Georgiana laughed. "What if it hadn't been me?"
"Then whoever it was would know I was in love with a beautiful woman who calls me at night!" His voice was soft and low. "I miss you, sweetie."
"I miss you, too." she replied. "Did you get the package I sent?"
"Yes, it arrived yesterday. Did you get mine?"
"Are you still going to my parents' for New Year's?" he asked. "I'll be calling them to wish them a happy new year."
"Of course. I'm looking forward to it." Georgiana said as she rolled onto her back on the bed. "Your Mum has plenty of wedding plans to go over with me."
"How is it coming along? I feel so left out! What have you decided on so far?"
"Oh, I got my wedding gown! But I'm not telling you anything about it." Georgiana giggled. "Will found it, actually."
Brian laughed. "Wait a minute. What do you mean Will found it? I didn't know your brother went in for frocks!"
"Silly!" Georgiana laughed as well. "I took him out shopping with me, believe it or not. While I was trying on some others, Will was looking through the racks. He found the perfect one, and he assured me that you would love it, too!"
"Oh, you tease! I have to wait another six months to see it."
"You don't have to wait that long to see me, though." she said quietly.
"Don't I know it." Brian replied. "I'm counting the days until you get here. You don't know how much I want to see you, Georgie. We'll have the first few days to ourselves, but then there's some people here who want to meet you."
"People you work with?"
"Yes. I'm afraid I've been crowing too loudly about my wonderful, beautiful fiancée just a little too often. They insist on meeting you while you're here."
"Well, as long as we have some time to ourselves....." she said in a silky tone.
"Oh, that we will, my dear! Would you like to hear what I have planned for you?" he returned in a low voice.
Georgiana snuggled herself into the pillows and closed her eyes. "Oh, do tell, Brian. Do tell."
Will watched his wife fondly as she put the finishing touches on her wardrobe. It would only be the four of them for Christmas dinner, but Elizabeth was insistent on dressing properly for the occasion. Even their son was outfitted in a little suit and tie.
"Do you need help with that?" she asked, her gaze directed at the tie he held in one hand.
Will looked down at the tie sheepishly. "Uh, no. I was just lost in thought." He crossed to the other mirror.
Elizabeth finished what she was doing and joined him. She took the ends of the tie in her hands and started on the knot. "You don't let me do this for you anymore." she complained.
Will raised a wary eyebrow as he watched her ministrations in the mirror. "Well," he said carefully, "the last time you tied it in a noose....."
Elizabeth looked embarrassed. "Oh, that's right." Then she smiled brightly. "But I've been much nicer to you lately, haven't I?"
"Yes, dear." he replied warmly. "Much nicer."
She slid the knot up to his collar and left Will to snug it up the rest of the way. Then together they left their room to find Georgiana and William downstairs.
Elizabeth was happy to spend a quiet family Christmas this year. Jane and Charles had gone to his sister Caroline's home for the holiday. He hadn't seen her since she'd moved to Germany two years before when her husband was restationed to an airbase there. Caroline and Tim had only just returned to England the previous month, and she was eager to catch up on all the news during her absence.
The rest of the Bennet clan, however, would join the Darcys in a couple of days. Elizabeth prayed that her mother would behave herself. So far she had been too cowed by Will's reprimand last summer to say much of anything to either of them, but how long that would last was anyone's guess. Four days together at Pemberley might be too much for them all to take. Her father, at least, would enjoy himself, likely spending whole days secluded in the library. Elizabeth smiled as she reflected on how much she enjoyed Pemberley's library herself.
Their dinner was a splendid selection that Mrs. Dodson had created to perfection. William even managed to keep everything confined to his plate through the entire meal, and asked for second servings of most of the dishes. Elizabeth sighed as she realized her son was going through another growth spurt and they would soon need to be shopping for more clothes for him again.
The clatter of silverware on the china startled her into looking up. Will met her gaze across the length of the table. He smiled guiltily. Elizabeth frowned and her eyes roved the table finally spotting the plate in front of William.
"Will!" she said in exasperation. The last thing that their son needed was an extra one of the special cakes that the cook had made especially for the youngster. Now he would be higher than a kite with all that sugar in him.
Her husband waited for her to continue and Elizabeth felt a twinge of guilt herself. Although she had tried very hard over the last few weeks to control her temper, she was not always successful. Poor Will! she thought for the hundredth time. Then she sighed in resignation and smiled at him.
"Pass me one of those, too, please."
Will grinned broadly and the plate was passed down the table.
After dinner they retired to the music room. Elizabeth listened to Georgiana play the piano while William played on the floor with his father. Elizabeth watched with amusement as her two boys pushed little cars around the carpeted surface. She sighed, content in the peaceful atmosphere of home, surrounded by loving family.
I could never wish for any more than I have right here, right now.